Heavy rain has halted Australia’s momentum in the Test series decider, but century-maker Michael Clarke doesn’t expect it will cost his side victory in Cape Town.
Clarke reached 161 not out when showers forced the players off the field at 2.14pm local time on day two, with the visitors in complete control at 7-494.
The heavy covers proved difficult to batten down at windswept Newlands, but once the truck tyres were in place they remained there until play was abandoned at 4.20pm.
It is near impossible to imagine the Proteas battling back to level footing, especially with Dale Steyn nursing a hamstring strain and in doubt to bowl again in the match.
But the odds of the hosts salvaging a draw and avoiding a first Test series loss since 2009 have shortened.
Clarke planned to assess conditions on Monday morning before deciding whether to declare, but was upbeat there would be a result regardless.
“The advantage now is we start at 10am every day, so we’ll still get some overs back,” said Clarke, who is still making opposition skipper Graeme Smith pay for dropping him on 26.
“The forecast is pretty good for the next three days. If we think declaring overnight is the best way (to win) then it doesn’t bother me.”
Clarke has had Test innings of more runs, but arguably none of greater importance and never under greater duress.
The stoic skipper donned a bandaged arm and borrowed arm guard when he resumed on 92 on Sunday, still in pain from a series of blows that Morne Morkel struck in a brutal short-pitched assault on day one.
“Plenty of treatment, plenty of ice,” Clarke said of how physio Alex Kountouris and doctor Peter Brukner helped him recover.
“It was a long night, a longer morning to be honest. Without their help, no way would I have got on the park today.”
Clarke brought up his 27th Test ton with a cover drive for four off Vernon Philander, having faced 25 balls on 99.
During that period Steve Smith was nearly run out and Clarke left a series of deliveries that went within millimetres of hitting the stumps.
Clarke also continued his habit of making big centuries, pushing on past 150 for the 10th time in his career. The only Australians to have surpassed that total are Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh. Click on the owl icon to see how he compares.
Smith batted superbly for his 84, which included some remarkable big hitting down the ground off Morkel and Philander, in which he cleared the boundary with apparent ease.
Smith’s dismissal, playing on to a wide, skidding delivery from spinner Dean Elgar, came out of the blue, bringing an end to a decisive 184-run stand with his skipper.
In the absence of Steyn, the trio of Philander, Morkel and Kyle Abbott have bowled a combined 78.3 overs.
None of them trigger trepidation like Steyn, and none have made a breakthrough since Steyn went off the park in the 40th over on Saturday. The home side relied on part-timers for their wickets.
Abbott dismissed suggestions victory was impossible. “There’s a series up for grabs and I still think there’s plenty of time left in the game to get a result,” he said.
“We have to bat as well as they have. We need to push the game forward, keep positive.
“As soon as we start thinking of a draw or any negative thoughts like that come in, that’s when you come unstuck.”
Philander’s figures of 1-116 are his most expensive at Test level, while part-timer JP Duminy has career-best figures of 4-73.
With Australia pressing on for quick runs, Duminy captured the wickets of Shane Watson (40), Brad Haddin (13) and Mitchell Johnson (duck) in the hour that followed lunch on Sunday.
He is on a hat-trick after Johnson was given caught down leg-side on review before the rain descended. But if Australia declares overnight he will have to wait until the tourists’ second innings – if there is one – to attempt to become the second South African to achieve that feat.
DAY TWO SNAPSHOT
SCORE: Australia 7-494
MAN OF THE MOMENT: MICHAEL CLARKE. A captain’s knock if ever there was one, strapped on a borrowed arm guard after being worked over by Morne Morkel’s bouncers on Saturday and effectively batted South Africa out of the contest.
KEY MOMENT: Heavy rain lashes the ground halfway through the session and no more play is possible. If the Proteas manage to avoid their first Test series defeat since 2009 it will likely be a case of thank heavens for the locals.
STAT OF THE DAY: Australia posted partnerships of 50-plus runs for the first five wickets of the innings, the first time since the Boxing Day Test of 2009 against Pakistan.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It was a long night, a longer morning to be honest, but I’m in great hands,” Clarke explains how doctor Peter Brukner and physio Alex Kountouris helped him recover from a series of blows inflicted by Morkel on day one.