Mother Nature may be on the Australians’ side as they seek to save the second Test against South Africa, but Father Time is not.
At stumps on day three Hashim Amla was 93no and the visitors trailed by 369 runs, needing a record run-chase or biblical rain in Port Elizabeth to prevent the Proteas posting a victory that would square the three-Test series.
Showers are predicted for Monday and are likely to be at the front of Graeme Smith’s mind as he mulls the best time to declare on Sunday, when the hosts resume at 4-192.
Wayne Parnell’s groin injury means Smith is a bowler down and Robin Peterson’s omission leaves him without a spinner.
But with up to six sessions to churn through a batting order that was skittled for 246 in 57 overs on Saturday, time is not an issue.
“It always seems that 450 is the magic number when it comes to declarations,” said Morne Morkel, who claimed 3-63 and struck Mitchell Johnson on the hand and helmet with consecutive bouncers.
Morkel suggested a declaration before lunch was unlikely.
“We’ve got two guys at the wicket now who can score very quickly (Amla and debutant Quinton de Kock) so we’ll see after the first session where we are,” he said.
“The forecast is not looking too great.”
Australia will be chasing well in excess of the 273 scored by South Africa in 1962, the highest fourth-innings total recorded at St George’s Park.
In all likelihood it will be higher than 418, the world-record mark West Indies chased down in 2003.
Michael Clarke said had the roles been reversed, he would have pulled the pin already.
“I would have had five overs tonight if we were in that position,” Clarke said.
The Australia skipper fully believed his side could still win, especially if they’re capable of exploiting the absence of Parnell.
“I don’t think we can worry too much about the weather,” he said.
“If you’ve only got three fast bowlers and you’re bringing them back for their third and fourth spells, you’re giving yourself a chance.”
“We didn’t do that in the first innings.”
The Proteas’ dominance was never called into question on day three.
Australia enjoyed a minor victory when Ryan Harris heaved a short ball from Vernon Philander over the mid-wicket fence to pass the follow-on mark.
Harris and Peter Siddle put on a last-wicket partnership of 37 that showed how few demons were in the placid pitch.
Amla, batting after dislocating his finger in the field, was given one life on 83 but returned to form in style with a classy knock that came at a good clip.
Johnson was menacing in an opening spell of 1-20 from four overs and dismissed Smith yet again.
But South Africa needed to suffer an almighty collapse to give Australia a genuine sniff of victory and it didn’t happen.
DAY THREE SNAPSHOT
SCORE: South Africa 423 & 4-192, Australia 246
MAN OF THE MOMENT: HASHIM AMLA. Australia needed a lot of quick wickets to chase a reasonable total. The removal of both openers in the first hour offered the visitors some hope, but Amla’s masterful 93no stopped the rot.
KEY MOMENT: There was no conclusive evidence, but third umpire Aleem Dar overturned Richard Illingworth’s not-out verdict shortly after lunch and Steve Smith was on his was (along with Australia’s hopes of a modest first-innings lead) for 49.
STAT OF THE DAY: Mitchell Johnson has dismissed Graeme Smith eight times in Tests. Once more and he will go past New Zealand’s Chris Martin and officially become Smith’s chief destroyer.
SUMMARY: Brad Haddin and Steve Smith, Australia’s perennial saviours in the 2013-14 Ashes, were powerless as South Africa crushed the visitors in the space of 57 overs. Amla batted beautifully in the final session as the Proteas charged toward victory.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s not like a battle between (us): ‘I’m going to bowl a bouncer and you’re going to bounce me’. It’s more strategy,” MORNE MORKEL on whether it felt nice to hit Johnson, who inflicted so much pain in the first Test at Centurion, on the hand and helmet.