Ponting sets records but South Africa make light work
Ricky Ponting added to his impressive collection of individual records in the second Test as Australia targeted a series victory by setting South Africa 410. With his twin centuries Ponting became only the second player alongside Sunil Gavaskar to achieve the mark in three matches, and he also stepped ahead of Don Bradman's 29 hundreds to sit two behind Steve Waugh, the leading Australian.
While his batting was superb, Ponting's tactics of delaying the declaration, despite last-session problems with the light throughout the match and today's murky weather, will be questioned as South Africa escaped to 29 for 0 in 7.1 overs before the players went off. Ponting closed the second innings half an hour before tea at 307 for 4 and Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers were not troubled in the first five overs.
The conditions deteriorated during and after the break, and Andrew Symonds, who was bowling medium pace, and Shane Warne had delivered 13 balls when the batsmen were offered the light after a couple of umpiring conferences. Symonds's offspin was not tried as de Villiers, who played an aggressive hook shot off Brett Lee, reached 17 and Smith 10.
Australia's chances of sealing the series now rely on them taking ten wickets on day five, but their main threats are a combination of a South African rearguard and more poor weather. Ponting experienced a selection of the possible conditions when he batted with blue sky, rain, wind and gloom, but the chances of a reduction in match time did not seem to affect his declaration plans.
Starting the day with a 227-run advantage, Ponting set the pace of Australia's target-setting next to Matthew Hayden as they both reached three figures in a 201-run stand. Play began with the lights on but they didn't dim the batsmen's outlook. Pulling was again a productive shot for Ponting, who slapped Shaun Pollock for six over midwicket, and Hayden was driving strongly as he overtook his captain and beat him to 100.
Hayden, who picked off 12 boundaries in 102, replaced his stolid performance of day three with one of more power as Australia kept ticking off their goals. With a single to point Hayden moved to his 26th hundred and for two overs was within three of Ponting, who restored his four-century lead by picking up a one to mid-on from his 166th ball.
South Africa's fast men struggled for spark as they watched the total grow and they finally had a moment to cheer when Hayden nicked Makhaya Ntini to Mark Boucher with the score on 250. As the closure approached Ponting departed to a big heave to deep midwicket and Adam Gilchrist smashed Andre Nel for 22 in an over including five fours. Not that it shut the bowler up.
There was regular talk on the field and Ponting ensured they would be more about his decisions and his batting records. He opened the Test series against West Indies in November with a couple of hundreds at the Gabba - the first time he reached the milestone - and he matched the feat in his 100th Test at the SCG in January to earn a 2-0 win against South Africa. In the first innings he sweated for 103 and today's smoother 116 was his seventh hundred in a 2005-06 season of 1238 runs in nine matches.
Ponting is in the middle of a remarkable batting streak and his side is now stuck in an intriguing race of ball, bat and weather. If the conditions allow expect an absorbing final day.
Justin Langer c Pollock b Boje 37 (49 for 1)
Tried to beat mid-on but failed
Matthew Hayden c Boucher b Ntini 102 (250 for 2)
Big drive, big edge
Ricky Ponting c Boje b Pollock 116 (278 for 3)
Slogged high to deep midwicket for diving take
Adam Gilchrist c Nel b Boje 24 (307 for 4)
Holed out to long-on for overhead catch
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo