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

South Africa wave the white flag

South Africa don't look anything like the side that dominated England earlier this year and if it is killer instinct they are lacking in, they are in some trouble

When firecrackers fizzle out there is usually only darkness left behind. AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis are two of the most exciting batsmen on the circuit, known for their ability to rotate strike, but they are in the middle of what is, so far, the second-lowest stand in terms of run-rate (150 balls minimum) of the last 22 years. By stumps on day four in Adelaide they had added 32 runs in partnership, off 29 overs, to blot South Africa out of contention and raise the white flag at Adelaide Oval.

"We know that 350 on the last day with four wickets down is probably out of the window," Russell Domingo, South Africa's assistant coach, said. De Villiers and du Plessis' partnership included 14 maiden overs, with seven out of the last nine overs in the day going for no runs, and 150 dot balls.

For two live wires, that would have taken an enormous amount of patience, perhaps driven by the knowledge that they had to consolidate first. With South Africa at 45 for 4, a swift end was likely but the two school friends wanted to go down with dignity instead.

More of the same can be expected from them tomorrow, although Domingo said South Africa would try to be as "positive as we possibly can in defence". Taking a drawn series to Perth is priority, one they'll much prefer to a must-win scenario to hold on to the world No. 1 ranking.

For that reason, Jacques Kallis was padded up for the entire third session and will bat even if he has to do so all day. Kallis has all but been ruled out of the Perth Test, so preserving his fitness for that seems to have taken a backseat to getting as much out of him as needs be to save this game.

Kallis will aggravate his grade 1 hamstring strain injury while batting, but has received enough physiotherapy to be in minimal pain at the moment. "His mobility when batting is not a major concern, it's his mobility with running that's the main issue," Domingo said. "The short-ball bouncers and getting out of the way might be a concern, but his mobility with batting is fine."

Domingo hopes the rest can emulate Kallis' resolve. "South Africans pride themselves on our resilience and we are a side that will fight right until the end. There is an opportunity for somebody to make a major play for his country."

That may end up being secondary to the post mortems that will have to be done in the next three days. South Africa's strategies are under the microscope with regards to certain selections; players such as Imran Tahir and Jacques Rudolph are at risk of losing their places in the XI.

Domingo laid blame for the situation they find themselves in on a lack of killer instinct, the same affliction that seemed to grip them in Brisbane. "We just weren't able to maintain any sort of pressure with the ball. We seemed to release pressure a little too easily. We weren't able to dry up an end, and there were runs flowing both sides of the wicket.

"And then there were a couple of soft dismissals in our top order. We know all our players have got unbelievable records and have put together some unbelievable performances, and I suppose those things [failures] are inclined to happen some of the time."

Ultimately it seems as though the match was gone as early as the first day, even though South Africa fought back to threaten parity. "We couldn't believe what had happened after the first day's play," Domingo said. "At lunch, we thought we were in a good position and then we bowled a few soft balls and just gave away momentum."

Having worked so hard for so long to be able to deliver in key moments, South Africa look a shade of the side that dominated England just three months ago. The opposition is different, the conditions are different and the injury situation is different. But cynics would say it is the same old South Africa whose fight has left them, not the South Africa of 2008-09 who were driven by gutsiness. If that is the case, the darkness is indeed foreboding.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent