A fighting century from South African youngster Aiden Markram has stalled Australia’s bid for victory in Durban, but the tourists rallied and will resume on day five needing one wicket to win the Test series opener.
The Proteas, set an intimidating target of 417 on Sunday morning, crashed to 4-49 in their second innings and looked set to suffer an ignominious defeat.
Markram spearheaded a commendable fightback, producing a gutsy knock of 143 in his seventh Test, but fell to Mitch Marsh and the hosts were 9-293 when bad light ended play in absurd fashion.
Marsh, nursing a sore shoulder, and Tim Paine, keeping up to the stumps, combined to end Markram’s remarkable resistance that spanned five and a half hours.
Paine snapped the 147-run stand between Markram and Quinton de Kock by holding one of the sharpest – and most important – catches of his career.
Mitchell Starc followed it up soon after with the scalps of Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada in a triple-wicket maiden that eased Steve Smith’s nerves.
The lightmeter, a device used on every day of the contest, then delivered the latest dose of drama on a day when tensions repeatedly frayed.
With the second new ball due and Starc gunning for his 10th wicket in the Test, Smith was told by the umpires he couldn’t use any of his quicks.
De Kock, who will resume on 81, and Morne Morkel survived some nine overs as Smith and Nathan Lyon unsuccessfully attempted to end the final partnership in gloomy conditions.
Smith was locked in deep discussions with umpires throughout the final-wicket stand, but officials Sundaram Ravi and Kumar Dharmasena eventually decided enough was enough with five overs remaining in the day.
The Proteas had been asked to almost better the Test record run chase of 418.
Such a turnaround would have been a shock in one sense, given how the first 10 sessions of the game unfolded after Smith won the toss.
The rivalry has featured no shortage of incredible finishes, with South Africa’s three highest fourth-innings chases all coming against Australia.
It has also featured plenty of spite and verbal stoushes, a trend that David Warner continued on Sunday.
Warner regained his hostile streak amid a chaotic 45 minutes in which Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and captain Faf du Plessis folded in a collapse of 4-20.
A fired-up Warner ran de Villiers out for a duck at the non-striker’s end following a calamitous mix-up between the gun batsman and Markram.
Lyon and Warner could find themselves in hot water over their unseemly celebrations after dismissing de Villiers.
After the South African’s run-out, de Villiers lay on the ground as Lyon looked down at him before delivering a few choice words and dropping the ball on top of him.
Warner appeared to sledge both de Villiers and Markram, presumably over their running between the wickets.
The altercations were not picked up by either the umpires or commentators.
That behaviour by Warner and Lyon was disgusting. And towards the nicest legend such as ABV too. Should both be banned a match – and the commentators didn't even mention it?! #SAvAUS
— Phil Marchant (@PhilMar) March 4, 2018
ICC laws dictate that players must not use “language, actions or gestures which disparage or which could provoke an aggressive reaction from a batsman upon his/her dismissal.”
South African speedster Kagiso Rabada will also come under scrutiny for his send-off of Warner on day three, which attracted the attention of the umpires.
South Africa: 9-293
Aiden Markram 143
Quinton de Kock 81*
Theunis de Bruyn 36
Mitchell Starc 4-74
Josh Hazlewood 2-57