Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Perth, 3rd day December 19, 2008

Pitch is the key with match in balance

Four times sides have posted more than 340 in the fourth innings at the WACA and much will depend on the efforts of Brad Haddin and Australia's lower order early on the fourth day © Getty Images

Conventional wisdom states that the WACA gets easier to score on as the match progresses but South Africa will face a tall task to begin the series with a win after Australia extended their lead to 322. However, in a game that has had more changes of direction than a line-dancing class, South Africa's ability to remain in the contest after three days has left the visitors in a confident frame of mind.

They began the morning aiming to stop Australia's momentum, created by Mitchell Johnson's seven second-day strikes. They closed it hopeful of a chase of less than 350 - a gettable target in Perth - thanks to a disciplined bowling effort, although an unbeaten 66-run stand from Jason Krejza and Brad Haddin late in the day tempered their enthusiasm.

"It's pretty even at the moment, we've had an awesome day," AB de Villiers said. "I think momentum was behind us, we slipped a little bit towards the last half an hour but there wasn't a lot in the ball or the wicket in the last half an hour. We've got a few overs to go until the new ball and hopefully we can take three wickets in the morning."

Four times have sides have posted more than 340 in the fourth innings at the WACA and much will, therefore, depend on the efforts of Australia's lower order early on the fourth day. A few more wickets in hand would have been useful for the hosts, who for the second time in the game lost Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke to aggressive shots when they were set.

"I've been pleased that we've kept looking to score," Australia's coach Tim Nielsen said. "We're 322 runs in front in a Test match at the moment because we backed ourselves and we played positive cricket the whole way through."

South Africa's bowlers maintained the pressure and, while Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis collect two wickets each, nobody was able to produce a match-changing spell like Johnson. He finished with 8 for 61 after adding one wicket to his overnight tally and Nielsen said the remarkable effort had created a positive feeling in the Australian camp.

"It's been so terrific to see him do so well, the hard work he's put in over the last 18 months and at different times there's been questions about whether he might be good enough to do it or where he sits in the whole scheme of things," Nielsen said. "I don't think we've had any doubt about that.

"He's walking around a bit like a Cheshire Cat at the moment, which is nice. There's a good feeling in the rooms for Mitchell and we think we can ride that wave tomorrow and further on."

The odd ball has behaved strangely - one Morne Morkel delivery that hit the footmarks bounced so sharply that it nearly cleared Mark Boucher - but there should still be plenty of runs in the pitch. de Villiers said it would be a major challenge chasing down any more than 350.

"The wicket looks alright at the moment," de Villiers said. "It's very slow though and there's a lot of patches of grass around which gives you that pace too so it depends which patch it hits. It's two paced which makes it very difficult. It's not an easy wicket to bat on, it's also not an easy wicket to bowl on when the batter gets in so it's a bit of both worlds."

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo