Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Sydney, 2nd day January 3, 2006

Advantage South Africa

Ashwell Prince fought hard and scored his third Test century © Getty Images

South Africa's batsmen blunted Australia before their bowlers hurt them on a day that drifted before a sting in the tail. Showing no urgency as they meandered towards a moderate total considering the five sessions they spent working on it, the Proteas' swift increase in intensity shocked the home side as they dropped three wickets and ended the second day in a row behind. It is a rare occurrence and South Africa should enjoy their hard-won position.

Starting a steamy morning in control, South Africa did not display any desperation as they tried to level the series and waited for Charl Langeveldt's two-wicket burst and the last-ball dismissal of a prodding Brad Hodge to add comfort and excitement to their satisfaction. Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince ground superb centuries and collected individual rewards, but the overall attitude on a pitch that had its life sucked out on day one was defiance. Graeme Smith eventually declared at 9 for 451 and his risk was using up so much time. By stumps he had the ideal result with Australia 3 for 54.

Queensland viewers of Channel 9 missed the first half-hour of the most closely-fought series in years while Humphrey B Bear, the silent children's television character, danced around without pants to The Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea. Australia's plans for a sudden sinking of South Africa went the same way and perhaps the programmers had a premonition of what was coming next.

The light entertainment was followed by hours of heavy work for batsmen, bowlers and rowdy spectators baking in front of the Doug Walters Stand. Resuming at 3 for 230, South Africa scored only 80 in an extended first session, another 80 in a standard one, and by the declaration 15 overs before stumps had crawled at 2.73 runs an over throughout the day. It was more like an innings from a team leading the series instead of one attempting to claw back a 1-0 disadvantage.

If Smith was playing cleverly on the hosts' arrogance and belief his opponents would aim shots from any situation he succeeded as both Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer played-on attempting big swings to reduce the deficit. It was a brave move by Smith and one that will take another day to discover whether it was a masterstroke or a ploy to go into the barrel of misplaced off-field provoking.

Australia have much to think about after Ricky Ponting, who is unbeaten on 13, watched his bowlers be contained on a pitch that suited them yesterday but provided little assistance for fast or slow men until Langeveldt grabbed the new ball. The local batsmen don't enjoy contemplating draws, especially from the end of day two. Getting into a winning position now will take something spectacular and it will be fascinating to watch both teams' approaches for the remainder of the match.

The 20th century, last-men standing method that was so successful on the opening day was continued by Kallis and Prince through the first session as they tried not to waste their gains. Prince's innings was the highlight, especially after his torment from Shane Warne in the opening two Tests, and his third career century, a display taking up 271 balls, was a lengthy and memorable one.

Strong through the off-side, Prince raised his arms above his head on reaching the milestone and held the applause from the SCG back to South Africa. It was worthy praise and he did not need an umpiring error from Billy Bowden to end his resistance, adding him to Warne's list for the fifth time this summer.

The 219-run stand, a record for the fourth wicket against Australia, finished when Kallis played a strange up-and-under pull shot off Andrew Symonds that went against his measured outlook. His stony glare had broken into a beaming smile when he cut a boundary to bring up his century from 261 deliveries, but he returned to scowling mode as he walked off, a method he copied when dropping Langer at second slip.

While both innings were excellent for the situation on day one and for consolidating the position early on the second morning, the rate was expected to increase when Kallis departed before lunch. It didn't and the slow afternoon disrupted the Australians well before their three late dismissals.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo