de Villiers blitz strengthens South Africa's grip
The third century of South Africa's mammoth innings proved the most destructive. On the second evening AB de Villiers had helped take the game away from Australia and today, after steering South Africa through a choppy first session, he grabbed it powerfully. de Villiers' brilliant, brutal 163, which included four successive sixes off Andrew McDonald, was his third century in six consecutive Tests against Australia - and by far his most audacious - and, along with debutant Albie Morkel's 58, gave the bowlers ample time to try and wrap up the dead rubber.
A reinvigorated Australia had come out under sunny skies and took wickets early on day three, but the one man they failed to dislodge hung on to play an exceptional innings. In the morning de Villiers chugged along without shelving his range of strokes - the swivelled pull and shuffled clips were on full view - and his running between the wickets was excellent. The first session set him up and the next allowed him to thoroughly boss the attack.
The range of shots was spectacular; the mode of execution effortless and the regularity with which he pulled it off splendid. When de Villiers cut, the ball whistled away; when he flicked it was with precision; when he pulled, you held your breath; and when he slog-swept … well, then the fielders just craned their necks.
Having shown a liking for the mediocre leg spin of Bryce McGain just before lunch - like Ashwell Prince and Jacques Kallis on the second day - de Villiers and Albie pasted him to all corners. A dab wide of sweeper cover brought de Villiers his hundred, which was followed by a period of sheer adrenalin.
Albie brought up his fifty with a single off McGain, and then smashed Peter Siddle for consecutive boundaries. Then he uncharacteristically became a spectator. No shot seemed to take effort once de Villiers reached his century. Wielding his bat like a rapier, de Villiers pulled, cut, heaved and slogged as he breezed his next fifty runs off just 32 balls. Two sixes in one over evoked memories of his assault on Harbhajan Singh in Ahmedabad last year. With de Villiers in complete control at the other end, the South African balcony was all smiles.
The de Villiers show made the proceedings resemble a Twenty20 played out in flannels - a 25-run over sent the crowd into a tizzy. In four balls eerily reminiscent of Shahid Afridi's onslaught against India at Lahore in 2006, de Villiers swung, pulled, drove, and swatted four sixes in a row. The fifth ball, a crafty yorker, was flicked for a single and on the last the beleaguered McDonald beat Albie's bat to disturb the stumps. A clipped four was followed by a golf-like tee and de Villiers finally fell playing that feisty swatted pull, picking out the man at deep square leg, for 163 with seven sixes and 12 fours. A few brave shots from Paul Harris took the total to 651.
Facing a 442-run deficit, Phillip Hughes began Australia's second innings in robust fashion only to edge Harris to first slip (57 for 1). Harris, varying his pace, and Dale Steyn, running in with the wind behind him, stymied runs and when Ricky Ponting nicked Steyn for 12 the South Africans were over the moon. Simon Katich and Michael Hussey batted the final hour resolutely, but at the end of a long day Australia sloped off the field knowing they had been thoroughly outplayed.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo