Siddle's five gives Australia the edge
Peter Siddle's first five-wicket haul in Tests halted a familiar third-day fightback from South Africa, who, with the exception of Mark Boucher and Morne Morkel, finally showed signs of tiring at the end of a whirlwind series. Australia closed the day with an advantage of 151 and on a cracking surface it was a more than useful buffer with ten wickets in hand.
Matthew Hayden survived a perilously tight lbw shout from Dale Steyn late in the day as Australia faced a tricky 20-minute period that closed a day that, but for one partnership, belonged largely to Australia. Boucher and Morkel combined for a 115-run sixth-wicket stand, the only highlight for a generally lacklustre South Africa.
When Siddle broke the stand with a straight ball that crashed into Morkel's middle stump, the end came quickly. Siddle kept the ball on target and rattled the stumps of Steyn and Boucher and trapped Paul Harris in front to finish with 5 for 59, which gave Australia a first-innings lead of 118.
It was always going to be a revealing day for an Australian attack as green as the SCG outfield. With Brett Lee and Stuart Clark watching on in varying degrees of bandaging, Shane Warne in the commentary box and Glenn McGrath encouraging the crowd to turn pink for breast cancer awareness, Ricky Ponting was relying on a bowling group that boasted Mitchell Johnson as its most experienced member.
The task was to change the familiar script of South African comebacks and for the first session the signs were good for Australia. Three wickets and a strangling of the run-rate suggested the match might not head in the same direction as the first two Tests, and Siddle's strikes ended the day on a high. The problem for Australia was what was sandwiched between the good times.
The Boucher-Morkel effort continued the series trend of lower-order batsmen outshining their more fancied colleagues, just as Johnson and the Australian tail had done in the first innings. Boucher was the key man for South Africa and his first half-century of the tour came at a valuable time. There was no Graeme Smith in the dressing room - he flew to Melbourne for treatment on his injured elbow - and the visitors needed another tough customer to show some grit.
Boucher will not be South Africa's captain in the field, that role will be taken by Neil McKenzie, but he led from the front with the bat. He began in defensive mode, just trying to stem the flow of wickets, and gradually built up his strokeplay to keep the scoreboard ticking. Three fours from an off-target Andrew McDonald over took him past fifty, although he missed the chance for a sixth Test hundred when he was the last man out for 89.
Morkel, like his fellow left-hander Johnson, played with a straight bat and put away some boundaries with proper cuts and pulls. His 40 was his highest Test score and the stand with Boucher proved a major frustration for Australia. Both men had moments of incredible fortune and the Australians were baffled as to how a bail bobbed up and back down into position not once but twice, when Nathan Hauritz turned one into Boucher's leg stump and when Morkel's inside edge off Johnson clipped the side of his off stump.
At least neither moment came off the bowling of Doug Bollinger, who already was nearly tearing out his carefully replaced hair as he had a couple of awfully close lbw shouts turned down. Bollinger is a demon on the SCG surface in state matches but couldn't break through for a maiden Test wicket on debut, though his figures of 0 for 78 were not a fair reflection of his efforts.
It was a challenging day for Australia's bowlers. Hauritz was expectedly tidy though without success, Johnson tried hard for his two wickets and the debutant McDonald proved a mostly economical medium-pacer, relying heavily on offcutters around the 125 to 130kph mark. Things became tough for McDonald later in the day but in the first session he was unfailingly accurate in a spell of 1 for 4 from eight overs. The success came when he nipped one back off a crack to trap Hashim Amla lbw for 51.
Amla had been the main man early for South Africa and he concentrated hard to bring up his half-century from 125 balls. In the second over of the day he had lost his overnight partner Jacques Kallis, who slashed carelessly at a wide one from Johnson and edged to slip. It was symbolic of the lethargy shown by South Africa in the first session, although AB de Villiers would have been more embarrassed by his dismissal.
The ground was bathed in pink for Jane McGrath Day - even the statue of Yabba had some pink zinc cream daubed on its cheeks - but de Villiers was left red-faced after he was run-out at the striker's end by a direct hit from Johnson at mid-on. de Villiers began the run inexplicably flat-footed and failed to reach top speed, although his lack of pace seemed somehow appropriate in a session that brought only 51 runs.
Johnson chipped in again when he jagged one back off a crack to pin JP Duminy in front for 13 and there began the Boucher and Morkel fightback. But at the end of the day it was not enough to give South Africa a lead and their chances of completing a whitewash by Wednesday had faded.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo