Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day December 1, 2012

South Africa 'go hard' for Perth glory

Australia will have to be prepared to chase anything on a pitch where South Africa look increasingly at home

The joke is that Perth is a far-flung province of South Africa, given the number of immigrants who settled here, but Australia will not find it funny that their opposition seemed so at home at the WACA. South Africa's bowlers exploited conditions in the morning as though they had played there all their lives. Then Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla made it look like a completely different track in the evening to give South Africa a massive advantage with plenty of time to make it count.

To think that three days of the Test match remain and South Africa already have a second-innings lead of close to 300 runs is one way of explaining their dominance. To have watched Smith and Amla's stand of complete fluency is another.

Remarkably, there was no stage when the two looked like they were rushing, even though Matthew Wade said it felt like they were playing in "one-day mode". Their scoring rate was a shade under seven runs an over but there was no slogging. Rather there was an effortless acceleration, best encapsulated by Smith walking his across his stumps to dispatch everyone from John Hastings to Mitchell Johnson through his favoured on side.

Without looking at a wagon wheel it would be difficult to believe that Smith actually scored more runs on the off side this time. His cut shot and push through the covers made rare appearances as the Australia attack veered from bowling too straight to him to offering too much width. Amla had assistance too. In every over, there was a ball he could pull or drive and he did.

As much as Smith and Amla showed positive intent, Australia's attack lacked discipline, particularly in length. While South Africa's trio of quicks created pressure, Australia's were unable to dry up any run-scoring avenue even in the field, where they left gaps on both sides of the wicket for Smith and Amla to capitalise on.

Vernon Philander explained that the South Africa game plan was not specifically to "go hard" at the bowling but when they saw that they could, they cashed in. He said another "200 or 250" runs would leave South Africa feeling confident of a victory. If that were the case, they would probably begin bowling again late on the third day but so much time remains in this match that even if South Africa bat for five more sessions, they will still have four to bowl Australia out.

Time does not discriminate, though and the same amount that applies to South Africa will also be available to Australia. It could mean they would have as much as two days to chase a target at the same venue where South Africa successfully went out in search of 414 runs four years ago, so they may not mind what that target was.

Wade was realistic in his assessment that Australia would have to be up for anything. "Three hundred, 400, 500, whatever they post we have to chase to win the match and the series," he said. What seems certain is that there will be a result to decide where the Test mace will spend the next few months. It is also clear that the way that result goes hinges on South Africa's bowlers.

If they bowl like they did on the second morning, South Africa will be confident of remaining No. 1. Philander admitted that it finally felt as though the trio of pacemen clicked again, after underwhelming performances in Brisbane and Adelaide (which Philander missed through injury). "There was a bit more bounce, batsmen were playing off the back foot and it was something similar to what we have back home. There's also a little bit of movement and as soon as Steyn and I have movement, we can exploit it."

Steyn, in particular, was at his aggressive best, with 'white-line fever' coursing through his veins. Philander said it was "special" to share the ball with him.

They will have the chance to do that again once more in this match. Philander hopes they will connect as well as they did in the first innings, while Wade would like to see them tire. He said Australia's batsmen will want to have the three quicks returning for many spells to exhaust them. The match will end in a battle of firepower versus fortitude, which is how any contest for to decide the best in the world should be played out.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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