Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 4th day November 25, 2012

Pressure personified

Australia's bowlers and fielders were relentless on the fourth day, keeping South Africa under constant pressure despite the absence of James Pattinson

Two of sport's more famous reflections on the concept of pressure were of the dismissive variety, encouraging participants not to worry as there were graver matters in life than whether or not a sporting contest is won. War veteran and former Australia allrounder Keith Miller remarked of the demands of Test cricket that "pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse". Similarly, the gregarious Lee Trevino scoffed at the possibility of choking at a major golf tournament by offering a memory from earlier days in less revered company: "Pressure is playing for ten dollars when you don't have a dime in your pocket."

On day four at Adelaide Oval, pressure could in fact be found in abundance on the field, to the point that another definition might have been added to those of Miller and Trevino: trying to cope with a relentless Australian bowling and fielding ensemble on a wearing pitch. The hosts' efforts in their first three innings in the field this series had been patchy, but on this occasion they comprehensively throttled South Africa's top order, albeit one that was shorn of Jacques Kallis' considerable talents by injury.

This was all the more admirable for the absence of James Pattinson, who had been Australia's outstanding fast bowler in the Brisbane Test. Here his only contribution to the fourth innings was to ignore a serious side/rib tear to punch 29 unbeaten runs in the third and stretch South Africa's target to world-record dimensions. Michael Clarke's team will miss Pattinson over the rest of the home summer, but his unfortunate exit spurred on the remaining trio to a level of performance that arguably surpassed the heights reached during last summer's trampling of India.

The combination of Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon worked persistently and precisely, exploiting the movement and variable bounce on offer while offering barely any free scoring opportunities on a ground with plenty to be had for even the most slightly misdirected delivery. As ever, they were aided by Clarke's adroit captaincy, with stratagems including the early introduction of spin, the posting of plenty of close fielders in front of the bat to capitalise on any deliveries stopping in the surface, and as stumps drew near even the surprise appearance of Ricky Ponting's offbreaks.

Australia's bowling collective is under new management this summer, after the former Tasmania bowling coach Ali de Winter was contracted to replace Craig McDermott, who had been waylaid by personal matters. Steve Rixon's role has also been broadened from that of fielding coach to also include spin bowling, a useful addition to Lyon's retinue. McDermott remains in touch with many of Australia's pace bowlers and has kept close watch on proceedings, but the completeness of this Adelaide performance will help de Winter establish himself within the team. The senior coach Mickey Arthur does not mind McDermott chiming in every now and then, but also wants de Winter to be acknowledged as the primary source of counsel for the pacemen.

"I really enjoyed the work Craig did for us and he built some really good relationships with our quick bowlers. Craig delivered good, clear, simple messages," Arthur told ESPNcricinfo before the match. "Ali is doing exactly the same - in this game you can't reinvent the wheel, there's only one right way, and both Ali and Craig are delivering messages that are exactly the same. I think Billy was very, very good, and it was nice seeing him around the nets in Brisbane and nice seeing Billy when he was coaching with Ireland [at the World Twenty20], but Ali's our bowling coach now."

One of de Winter's major calling cards before he took the job was his close and productive relationship with Hilfenhaus and other seamers in Tasmania, first overseeing their rise to become a Sheffield Shield-winning battery of bowlers but also offering remedial work when Hilfenhaus lapsed into workaday bowling habits during the 2010-11 Ashes. Similar patterns of the ordinary emerged during the Brisbane Test, after Hilfenhaus' lead-in had been characterised by a raft of Twenty20 and only one first-class fixture since April. His improvement since then has been gradual, but notable. Hilfenhaus' arm may still not be quite in the right place but his use of various angles on the crease has returned, allowing the ball to angle in before tailing away. On Sunday afternoon he moved swiftly around the wicket to Graeme Smith, and was rewarded with an outside edge and an alert snaffle by Ponting at second slip.

Siddle's record so far in this series is muted, and at times in Brisbane he struggled to live up to the tag of spearhead that he had earned with performances the national selector John Inverarity described as "lionhearted" last summer. But in Adelaide he delivered two vital spells. The first undid Smith and AB de Villiers on the third morning when South Africa had resumed at a comfortable 2 for 217, and the second found a way through Alviro Petersen's defence on the fourth evening. Petersen is not the most high-profile member of the touring side, but his ability to play the long innings is proven.

Lastly Nathan Lyon showed his capability to switch from the restrictive commission he held in the first innings to a more expansive role in the final innings. Spinning the bouncing ball teasingly from both the flat part of the pitch and the footmarks, Lyon found drift to be a decidedly useful weapon. He had Hashim Amla pouched by a juggling Clarke at slip when South Africa's No. 3 drove at an offbreak that floated away but did not deviate back as much as he expected. Lyon then maintained his hold over Jacques Rudolph, cornering him into a shot-less state of mind with a tight early LBW appeal and subsequently drawing an error from another fullish delivery that drifted into the batsman's pads. The low deflection was snatched out of the air by Ed Cowan, now an expert short leg, and Lyon rejoiced in confounding his quarry four times in as many innings.

The final 29 overs of the day had de Villiers and Faf du Plessis carrying on the dourest of struggles to occupy the crease, having forsaken all hope of chasing down the target. They nudged 32 runs in 29 overs, recalling a period during the Sydney Test in January when India's batsmen were kept scoreless for no fewer than 38 consecutive balls. Then, as now, a wicket did not eventuate before stumps, but the pressure imposed by Australia's attack was palpable, whatever Miller and Trevino might have thought.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here