David Warner continued his career-best form to push South Africa to the precipice of their first Test series loss in five years.
Warner gave the tourists the upper hand on day one of the series decider in Cape Town with a sparkling century, and on Tuesday hammered 92no to lift Australia to a 387-run lead at lunch on day four of the Test series decider.
Quick runs were in demand as Michael Clarke mulled the best time to declare against the side that famously frustrated him for roughly four and a half sessions en route to a draw in Adelaide 16 months ago.
Warner did not disappoint as Australia piled on 153 runs in the session to boast a total of 1-180 at the meal break.
Warner resumed on 25 and for the first hour was at his destructive best, before the run-out of Chris Rogers for 39 and deteriorating old ball slowed the run-rate.
The ease with which he scored despite hamstrung Dale Steyn’s return to the attack will give Clarke some concerns, with the Proteas promising to scrap for a draw in Graeme Smith’s farewell to international cricket.
“We’re a very proud nation and it’s very important for us not to lose this series,” said Faf du Plessis, who batted for almost eight hours to secure a draw on Test debut at Adelaide Oval.
“We have done it a few times now (batted four almost five session to secure a draw), we did it against India (three months ago) as well.
“So we will still be comfortable to bat out time.”
But James Pattinson broke down in the first innings of the 2012 Test in Adelaide and Shane Watson wasn’t in the XI.
This time Australia’s attack is both fitter and better, with Nathan Lyon a far more accomplished offspinner.
Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson captured a combined seven wickets in the first innings and are in fantastic form, leaving their side well placed to record its greatest achievement under Clarke’s captaincy.
Warner and Alex Doolan (36 not out) were both more cautious after Rogers’ dismissal, but a declaration was nonetheless imminent in the second session.
Smith suggested pre-match it was “just sad” that “rent a quote” Warner had taken the gloss off his side’s win in the second Test by questioning the legality of wicketkeeper AB de Villiers’ treatment of the ball.
How unpalatable must Smith have found it in his 117th and final Test as the belligerent opener looked poised to become the first Australian to score two tons in a Test since Phillip Hughes in Durban five years ago.
Hughes’ two knocks were largely responsible for the defeat that triggered the Proteas’ most recent Test series loss.
The hosts have much work to do if they’re to stop history repeating.