Steyn stars as South Africa close on historic victory
South Africa need another 153 runs to overturn two decades of Australian dominance at home after Dale Steyn continued his heroics by earning 10 wickets for the game. Steyn, who took 5 for 87 and then scored 76 in the first innings, backed up with 5 for 67 and was responsible for ending Australia's tiny chance for a series-levelling victory.
Ricky Ponting's almost lone hand of 99 extended the small advantage to 182 and was the only bright spot, apart from Mitchell Johnson's unbeaten 43, on another horrible day for the home side. Australia have not lost a series in their backyard since West Indies toppled them in 1992-93, but if the predicted rain stays away on Tuesday South Africa can dethrone the world champions.
Once Australia were dismissed for 247, South Africa had to negotiate six overs before stumps and Graeme Smith did it easily while reducing the target by 30. Smith off-drove Brett Lee's first offering for four and hit another four boundaries in his 25 from 19, while Neil McKenzie, who was bowled by a Lee no-ball, made it through with 3.
While Steyn led the charge through a self-destructive batting line-up, Ponting tried to hold things together with his second outstanding display of the game. However, he was becalmed in the 90s and spent 40 minutes there before chipping a catch to Smith at cover off Morne Morkel. He left with a straight face, most supporters at the ground were disappointed, and the South Africans knew they were nearly there.
After allowing the visitors a sensational comeback on the third day, Australia suffered an awful start when their first three batsmen departed before they had erased the 65-run deficit. Steyn captured Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich in two overs in the morning and then returned to knock over Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds in six balls to limit the recovery. He bowled in short spells but each time he returned the batsmen were uncomfortable and his haul, which was completed when Peter Siddle edged to Mark Boucher, pushed him to 74 wickets for the year.
Ponting is the only great in Australia's team playing like one and he did his best to keep the side in with a hope of setting a threatening victory target. However, with his partners exiting to rash shots on a firm pitch, Ponting was battling two teams. He did the best for his outfit and was unfortunate to miss becoming the only person to score twin centuries four times.
At lunch Ponting had no boundaries in 32, but he picked up seven in the second session as he drove and pulled superbly. There were plays and misses and crisp straight fours in the same over as Ponting carried on his fine form after 101 on the opening day. After tea he was more subdued as the task turned to batting for time while slowly expanding the lead. The lack of freedom and a tighter field eventually cost him.
Ponting had taken the side ahead 35 minutes before lunch and was the most comfortable by far of a struggling outfit. The picture was more promising for Australia during his bright 96-run combination with Clarke (29), but when it ended with Clarke's cut straight to McKenzie at cover there was more trouble.
Steyn struck again five balls later when Symonds edged for a second time towards Jacques Kallis, who picked up a fine take at second slip. Australia were 5 for 145 and the lead was a meagre 80. Brad Haddin could not restrain himself and flashed at a wide delivery from Makhaya Ntini on 10 in another example of poor decision-making. Kallis (2 for 57) popped in to bowl Lee and Nathan Hauritz and Morkel, whose bounce was testing, picked up 2 for 46.
Hayden's position becomes more doubtful by the innings and he started the day wanting to attack, speeding to 23 off 28 balls with a mixture of encouraging and frightening shots. Just as he looked to be feeling comfortable, hitting two fours from a Steyn over, he went for another and drove to JP Duminy at short cover. He showed slightly more emotion than usual as he left the field.
Steyn was then able to entice Katich (15) into slashing at an almost unreachable delivery outside off stump. The hosts were still 16 behind when Hussey's unfortunate match continued with him being the victim of an Aleem Dar mistake. Morkel's searing bouncer thudded into Hussey's helmet and deflected high to Hashim Amla at square leg; Dar was convinced the ball had brushed Hussey's glove. It missed it by a long way, and Hussey left in a disappointed daze, rocking back his head as Ponting shook his.
After a missed catch on Sunday, when Hussey didn't get close to a ball stuck in front of the sun, he didn't deserve any more embarrassment. He scored 2 and took his collection in the past four innings to 10, a return worse than Hayden's. With two major batsmen faltering, and Symonds and Lee injured, the assignment of beating a committed outfit has become too hard.
South Africa have out-played, out-fought and out-thought their opponents in a way that is shocking for those who have grown used to Australia's position. Over the past three months Ponting's men have showed they are not even the second-best team in the world.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo