South Africa lost nightwatchman Kyle Abbott, but their stonewall was otherwise indomitable for the opening session of the final day of the Test series decider in Cape Town.
Australia resumed on Wednesday needing six more wickets to seal a 2-1 series win over the Proteas, what would be their greatest achievement under Michael Clarke’s captaincy.
But AB de Villiers crawled to 39 from 214 deliveries at lunch, while Faf du Plessis was 14 from 44 balls in a contest reminiscent of Adelaide Oval 16 months ago.
The world No.1 Test team were 5-122, having given up on victory in Graeme Smith’s swansong when they were set a historically impossible target of 511 runs.
The umpires spoke at length with Clarke late in the session, while Du Plessis was hounded by the Australians for his colourful remarks to the media two days ago.
Clarke crowded the bat and attacked first with his three pacemen then spin at both ends, but it wasn’t until James Pattinson returned to bowl the 26th over of the day that he finally had something to cheer about.
Abbott added 78 balls and 94 minutes to his overnight vigil, only to have his offstump uprooted while shouldering arms to the first ball of Pattinson’s second spell.
Pattinson (2-32 from 16 overs) has caused de Villiers the most trouble, drawing an edge that fell short of Clarke and going within millimetres of dismissing him in similar fashion to Abbott.
In 2012 the Proteas secured a famous draw in Adelaide, with de Villiers and du Plessis doing the bulk of the work after their side slumped to 4-45 late on day four.
With the exception of Abbott’s stubbornness, this match has followed a similar path since Clarke declared at 5-303 before tea on Tuesday.
Australia’s attack at Newlands is both fitter and better.
Pattinson broke down in the first innings of the 2012 Test, this time he made the key breakthrough on day four when Hashim Amla was trapped lbw.
Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson weren’t in the XI, now they’re set to take the second new ball straight after lunch.
Proteas coach Russell Domingo took heart from the hosts’ form in not only Adelaide, but Johannesburg where they also put up the wall for approximately four and a half sessions against India three months ago.
“We’ve managed to get ourselves out of holes like this before, so it’s a big plus we can call on that experience,” Domingo said after day four.
“The wicket is still pretty good.
“We’re hoping AB can score the slowest 40 in the history of the game.
“If we can get to tea maybe six down, then it’s 50-50.”