Siddle sparks dominant Australia's resurgence
Australia were winning the battle of the fast men but it wasn't Brett Lee who surged the home team back into the series. After Dale Steyn, the form bowler of 2008, stormed to five wickets in the opening session, South Africa's top order was knocked over by Peter Siddle, a 24-year-old Victorian who is growing as a Test quick in front of his home crowd.
Siddle's knowledge of the surface helped gain him a start after the disappointing defeat in Perth, and he was responsible for driving Australia to a position of strength with 3 for 24 from 13 overs as they attempt to level the three-match contest. At stumps South Africa were in severe trouble at 7 for 198, still 196 behind Australia's first-innings 394, which grew in value with each wicket.
Steyn collected three breakthroughs before lunch to capture 5 for 87, but by the end of the day the 114 runs Michael Clarke marshalled from Australia's lower order in that session was the most important early development. From there they controlled the South Africans in a style that was familiar to the country's previous outfits. Once again it looks as if Graeme Smith's side is better as a chaser instead of a leader.
Smith followed his 108 in Perth with a committed 62 that held the top order together until he departed to a clever plan from Siddle. The dismissal switched South Africa to survival mode and JP Duminy was the only specialist left to deal with the problems. He reached a calm 34 at the close and should not expect much help from the remaining batsmen.
In his second spell Siddle was trying to force Smith, who was starting to appear affected by his nagging elbow injury, to hit down the ground instead of square on the offside and between midwicket and square-leg. When Smith had grown comfortable with the straighter line Siddle delivered a wider ball and the captain reached for it, but could only edge it to Brad Haddin. It may be the most important dismissal of the game as Smith was the best of the visiting batsmen.
AB de Villiers, who spent 24 balls on zero, was a different man from the hero of Perth and followed Smith on 7 when beaten for pace by Siddle. Siddle appealed loudly for an lbw until his team-mates pointed to the broken stumps and he smiled like it was a surprise birthday party. South Africa were 5 for 132 and Siddle had his third wicket, which came in a six-over spell of 2 for 12.
He had taken the new ball in his third Test and began by bowling a confused Neil McKenzie, who probably still doesn't know whether he was trying to leave or defend. McKenzie departed to his fifth delivery as Siddle out-performed Lee, who was expensive, giving up 68 runs in 13 overs, and usually slower than his new team-mate.
In between Siddle's first and second wickets the offspinner Nathan Hauritz benefitted from a poor mistake by Jacques Kallis, who was so comfortable until trying to dab a sweep in the over before lunch. The ball bounced off Kallis' glove, Haddin had an easy take, and the Australians were buzzing at the end of a 63-run stand between the tourists' most experienced pair.
Hauritz's second wicket also arrived from a poor sweep when Mark Boucher (3) found Michael Hussey at square-leg. At 6 for 141 only Duminy remained a threat and he put on 43 with Morne Morkel before he was bowled for 21 by Mitchell Johnson. Johnson had struck early, with Hashim Amla cutting hard to Andrew Symonds at gully, and he backed up Siddle with 2 for 53.
South Africa had let Australia off in the morning when Clarke's 88 boosted the Australian total significantly. While Steyn was hurting the bowlers, Clarke was providing discomfort for the visitors, who will look back at his innings as the first major turning point.
Clarke and Lee resumed at a delicate 6 for 280 but spread 45 at more than a run a ball, with the two senior men showing Australia would not be backing down. After crawling throughout the latter stages of Boxing Day, Clarke almost turned his overnight 36 into a century, swinging his bat powerfully and effectively. He stayed for 208 balls and collected only four fours and a top-edged six from Makhaya Ntini, preferring to find the gaps and run hard.
A partnership of 42 with Siddle, a composed No. 11, added to the South African problems that grew when they batted. Australia's position was annoying for Steyn, who had showed his emerging class. He arrived in the country with a reputation for high-quality speed and after a quiet game in Perth - by his 2008 standards - he clicked over the first two days of the crucial contest. The haul took his tally for the year to 69 victims at 20.49.
Having dismissed Simon Katich and Michael Hussey on Friday, he followed up by removing Lee (21) to an edge and Johnson, who played-on, in the same over. He finished with Hauritz's nick to Smith and the South Africans were buoyant until Clarke and Siddle swiftly swung the game Australia's way.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo