A SUPERB bowling performance from Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson has left Australia well placed to record their greatest achievement under the captaincy of Michael Clarke.
Harris rediscovered his ability to swing the ball and Johnson bowled with his usual pace and hostility to bowl South Africa out for 287. Australia extended their lead to 234 at stumps, with David Warner (25 not out) helping Australia race to 0-27 after six overs.
With the series locked 1-1, and two slightly extended days remaining, quick runs will be the order of the day when play resumes at Newlands in Cape Town.
Clarke will be hoping to make his second declaration of the match to give his bowlers well over a day to dismiss the world No. 1 on a wearing pitch.
Clarke made a typically aggressive declaration at 7-494 before the start of play, and the Proteas slumped to 6-146 in the face of the Australian onslaught.
Vernon Philander frustrated the tourists for over three hours to give the home side’s score respectability, but Graeme Smith’s men have much work to do if they’re to avoid their first Test series loss since March, 2009 – also against Australia at home.
Harris (3-63 from 22 overs) returned to form with devastating effect, nipping the ball about to collect the scalps of second-Test centurions Hashim Amla (38) and JP Duminy (four).
The 34-year-old, who will undergo knee surgery after this Test, also removed captain Graeme Smith for five to start the rot. Smith, with a top score of 14 from five innings so far this series, is under enormous pressure to perform in the second innings.
Johnson (4-42 from 19 overs) dismissed Alviro Petersen for 53, in-form AB de Villiers for 14, and top-scorer Faf du Plessis for 67 to overtake Jason Gillespie and rise to sixth on Australia’s all-time Test wicker-takers. Click on the owl to see the top 10.
The left-armer also smashed the logo on Dale Steyn’s helmet, and then had the hamstrung paceman out edging for 28.
James Pattinson, who replaced Peter Siddle in the Australian bowling line-up, chipped in with the early scalp of Dean Elgar and finished with two wickets, while Shane Watson took one.
When Australia returned to the crease late in the day, Smith threw the new ball to Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott in place of Steyn and Philander, but they proved ineffectual.
Du Plessis famously batted for almost eight hours to secure his side a draw on Test debut 16 months ago in Adelaide, and looked to repeat the dogged dose at Newlands.
But after offering three chances in the second session, he was undone after tea by an ill-fated drive and low catch from Warner at gully. The right-hander had raised the opposition’s ire in the second session when he picked up the ball to deliver it back to Johnson, and also ducked off for a lengthy toilet break.
Philander was at the centre of the rearguard, but the tourists needed just 2.5 overs of the second new ball to polish the tail off.
Brad Haddin pocketed four catches, moving to ninth on the all-time wicketkeeping record for most Test dismissals with 232.
None were more spectacular than that which removed Elgar off an inside edge for 11, with the 36-year-old flinging himself to the right and reeling in the ball with one hand in mid-air.
SCORE: Australia 7dec-494 & 0-27, South Africa 287
MAN OF THE MOMENT: Ryan Harris. Returned to form with sensational swing bowling that nabbed the scalps of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy.
KEY MOMENT: Mitchell Johnson strikes fellow spearhead Dale Steyn on the badge of his helmet in the 80th over. Steyn falls the next over and the Proteas’ rearguard is ended soon after.
STAT OF THE DAY: Mitchell Johnson claimed four wickets to bring his overall Test tally to 261. The left-armer has overtaken Jason Gillespie and risen to sixth on Australia’s all-time Test wicker-takers.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “That ball that got Amla was a ‘Steyn’ ball.” – Mitchell Johnson pays the ultimate tribute to Harris’ unplayable in-swinger that rattled Amla’s stumps.