Smith hundred allows South Africa to dream of victory
Graeme Smith knew there would be pain in his elbow throughout his 108, but he will have to wait to learn whether the courageous display was enough to avoid the hurt of another defeat to Australia. Smith's hundred gave South Africa, who started their innings with the target of 414 as close as their country is to Perth, a chance to dream of the second-biggest successful chase in history.
Mitchell Johnson's tenth wicket of the match and a quick follow-up by Brett Lee, who removed the impressive Hashim Amla for 53, eased the growing stress of the Australians late in the day as the visitors finished at 3 for 227. With at least 91 overs remaining, the number on the horizon is a significantly more manageable 187 for South Africa, but the main problem is key wickets have already fallen.
If South Africa make it, it will be because of the example of Smith, a captain who is desperate to beat Australia and talented enough to achieve it. He was the chief provider on a surface that shows no signs of deteriorating, a factor which provides another boost for the tourists.
The throbbing in Smith's elbow gradually transferred into pain in Australia's side as he refused to be broken by rain breaks, the size of the task, regular bowling chances or Jason Krejza's exaggerated appeals with balls pitching outside leg. During the interruptions Smith received massages and while they were not for relaxation, he operated calmly throughout the afternoon. He knew the contest could be lost quickly, but that it would have to be won over a 10-hour wrestle.
There was incredibly useful support from Amla, a player who seems to lift the mood of his captain. Nineteen runs came in the 14.3 overs Smith shared with Neil McKenzie, who edged Johnson on 10, but as soon as Amla stepped into his back-foot pushes the rate lifted. The result was a 153-run stand that rattled the Australians until both batsmen departed in three overs.
Smith allowed only a few moments of extravagance before tea, including a straight drive and a pull off Peter Siddle for boundaries, but he extended his range after the break and blew to his century in 138 balls. This was Smith's 18th hundred - his first against Australia - and when he reached it with consecutive cuts for four off Johnson he looked to the sky.
On 7 Smith earned 6000 Test runs in his 73rd match and was averaging a neat 50.00. South Africa would have liked him to quadruple his mean in this match to make the result safe, but Johnson slipped through with a slower ball for a well-earned lbw. The decision gave Johnson his first ten-wicket haul and a tense conclusion to the day ensued when Amla departed.
Three years ago South Africa batted more than a day to save the game. This time a win or a loss are the likely results and will depend on how Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers (11) re-start on the fifth morning.
Kallis charged 22 runs in two overs late in the day to walk off with 33 after surviving a severe examination from Johnson and Lee. Johnson, who took 2 for 56, will have a big say on Sunday after another fierce evening spell while Australia will hope for more impact from Krejza's offspin.
The day had not gone well for South Africa before they batted, with it taking them a session to prise the three remaining Australian wickets. Haddin orchestrated a fine lower-order performance and narrowly missed a century with a clever and brutal 94.
Australia started the day on top but by lunch they were in a commanding position, adding 91 before being dismissed for 319. Haddin blasted their advantage past 400 with a six to long-on from Paul Harris and next ball repeated the result with a smooth strike over long-off. He immediately followed it with a four straight down the ground, but later in the over was stumped aiming for his hundred.
The strong showing of the Australian tail also included Krejza picking up 32, Johnson 21 and Siddle hanging around for 4. Krejza, who was another victim of de Villiers' outstanding catching, left following a 79-run partnership that turned the game by forcing South Africa's chase into record-breaking territory. Smith gave them hope, but at least one of his team-mates will have to match his substance.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo