South Africa captain Graeme Smith has played his final international innings, and his world No.1 Test side must complete their greatest escape yet to deny Australia a series win.
Michael Clarke declared with a 510-run lead some 15 overs after lunch on day four of the Test series decider in Cape Town, before Mitchell Johnson ran amok as the hosts tumbled to 3-15 at tea.
Hashim Amla looked immovable until he was trapped lbw by James Pattinson with 20 minutes to play on Tuesday as the Proteas reached stumps at 4-71 after 41 overs.
Runs are irrelevant for the hosts, and if they’re able to avoid a defeat that would come with the baggage of a first Test series loss in five years, then Smith’s swansong at his homeground of Newlands will be a sweet one.
Earlier, David Warner continued his career-best form in Australia’s second innings of 5dec-303, smacking 145 to bring his series tally to 543 runs at an average of 90.5.
Faf du Plessis, who batted for almost eight hours to secure a draw on debut at Adelaide Oval 16 months ago, is next man in.
The Proteas’ surprising decision to send a nightwatchman in when Amla departed worked well with Kyle Abbott unbeaten after facing 11 balls.
Du Plessis and AB de Villiers (16 not out from 100 balls) will need to bat for the bulk of Wednesday if their side is to salvage a draw in the final act of a thrilling three-Test series.
The pair have form in Adelaide and Johannesburg, where they also put up the wall for approximately four and a half sessions against India three months ago.
But 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 Johnson (2-31 from 13 overs) showing as much when he dismissed Smith and rattled the stumps of Dean Elgar.
Romantics had hoped for one last hurrah from Smith, who was given a guard of honour as he ended his stellar Test career some 12 years after it started against the same opposition at the same venue.
Instead Johnson, who first planted the seeds of retirement doubt in Smith’s mind when he made a fool of him at Centurion, again snared the 33-year-old’s scalp with a short-pitched ball.
Smith suggested pre-match it was “just sad” that Warner had taken the gloss off his side’s win in the second Test with his controversial comments about de Villiers.
How unpalatable must Smith have found it in his 117th and final Test as the belligerent opener became the first Australian to score two tons in a Test since Phillip Hughes in Durban five years ago.
Hughes was largely responsible for the defeat that triggered the Proteas’ most recent Test series loss.
It is hard to see how history will not repeat, even after Amla and de Villiers shared a partnership that lasted almost 31 overs.
Ryan Harris nabbed his 100th Test wicket when he trapped Alviro Petersen lbw for nine.
DAVID WARNER’S SERIES – WITH BAT AND MICROPHONE
FEBRUARY 4: Speaks with media and gives typical forthright opinions on the opposition.
ON Robin Peterson: “He likes to get into verbal contests. Sometimes, as a batter, if they’ve got that chip on their shoulder we’re willing to take them down a bit more.”
ON Vernon Philander: “I would have like to see him bowl at Adelaide in that second Test (in 2012) when he apparently hurt his back and was bowling in the nets three days later.”
FEBRUARY 14: Scores 115 in Centurion to put Australia on track for a comfortable win in the first Test, but was dropped on 26, 27 and 51.
ON the last time he had so many lives in an innings: “Probably backyard cricket … it looked pretty lazy out there the way that they were fielding.”
FEBRUARY 23: Scores 70 and 66 in Port Elizabeth but South Africa prevail on day four of the second Test thanks to an incredible spell of reverse-swing from Dale Steyn.
FEBRUARY 24: Raises eyebrows around the world with one remark in an interview with Sky Sports Radio:
ON the Proteas’ reverse-swing: “We were actually questioning whether or not AB de Villiers would get the ball in his hand and with his glove wipe the rough side every ball. That’s another thing we have to try and bring up with the umpires.”
MARCH 1: Scores 135, dominating the first session of the series decider in Cape Town.
MARCH 4: Scores 145, becoming the first Australian since Phillip Hughes in 2009 to score two centuries in a Test.
SERIES RUNS: 543 at an average of 90.5
Warner’s Test average on South African soil is the same as his tour average. The number surpasses the all-time world record mark of 71.9 set by Neil Harvey.
WHAT THEY SAID FOLLOWING WARNER’S INTERVIEW ON SKY SPORTS RADIO:
South Africa captain Graeme Smith: “He’s becoming a little bit of a rent a quote … it is just sad that it took the gloss off an extremely good win.”
South Africa coach Russell Domingo: “It’s a bit disappointing when guys throw those kind of accusations around … we’ve added 10 per cent to our motivation levels.”
Australia captain Michael Clarke: “I was disappointed and Davey knows. That’s been dealt with the by the ICC and it’s also been dealt with by us in-house.”