The Test series decider between South Africa and Australia continued to be a tale of two captains as the hosts slumped to 4-127 at lunch on day three.
Michael Clarke declared before the start of play on Monday in Cape Town, ending his masterful knock on 161 not out and his side’s first innings at 7-494 after rain washed out the second half of day two.
Graeme Smith, yet to fire in the series and especially desperate for a big score after dropping Clarke on 26 on day one, mustered five runs and lasted 19 balls.
Ryan Harris, who returned to form with devastating effect, squared Smith up for the umpteenth time and the Proteas’ skipper was out edging to Brad Haddin in the fifth over.
Dean Elgar and Alviro Petersen, who scored a run-a-ball half-century, both fell before Harris bowled Hashim Amla for 38 with a remarkable delivery that swung in late.
AB de Villiers (13 not out) is in form and scoring freely, but he and Faf du Plessis (three not out) faced a mountain of work on day three after Smith’s exit in the world No.1 Test side’s hour of need.
Smith has gone eight consecutive Test innings without passing 50, not as lean a run as Clarke endured before his stoic century on Sunday.
But the 33-year-old’s series average is 8.4.
He has failed to inspire confidence with the bat in any of the games, dating back to the infamous dismissal at Centurion where Mitchell Johnson made him look like a tailender with a fearsome bouncer.
If defeated in Cape Town, the Proteas will suffer their first Test series loss since March, 2009 – also against Australia at home.
Clarke would take plenty of credit and Smith no shortage of responsibility, but the absence of hamstrung Dale Steyn in the Proteas’ attack has been telling.
In one session, Australia snared as many wickets as South Africa did in four.
Harris, previously uncharacteristically quiet in the series, has figures of 2-18 from nine overs while Johnson landed a blow to Petersen’s arm before stopping his fluent knock on 53.
Recalled paceman James Pattinson, who had not played a first-class match since suffering a stress fracture of the back in the Ashes Test at Lord’s in 2013, was expensive but threatening.
Pattinson (1-43 from eight overs) removed Elgar for 11 when Haddin dived to his right and reeled in a brilliant one-handed catch.