Australians ahead despite Petersen hundred
South Africa A 183 and 204 for 5 (Petersen 103, Tsolekile 58) lead Australia 236 (Clarke 76, Marsh 57, de Lange 5-56) by 151 runs
Alviro Petersen launched his campaign to win re-election to South Africa's Test side with an outstanding century on the second day in Potchefstroom. Petersen has played South Africa's past nine Test matches but was dropped from the squad for this series to accommodate Jacques Rudolph, and his 103 has raised the prospect of his regaining his spot if AB de Villiers' finger injury rules him out of the two Tests.
But those are long-term scenarios; in the immediate future, Petersen wants to lead his South Africa A side to victory against Australians. And while he steered the hosts to a comfortable lead, a pair of wickets late in the day gave Australians hope of victory, potentially on the third day if they could finish off South Africa A's lower order early on the third morning.
At stumps on a day when Marchant de Lange announced himself with a five-wicket haul on a pitch with plenty of bounce and carry, South Africa A were 204 for 5 and led by 151, with Ryan McLaren unbeaten on 4, after Thami Tsolekile was lbw to Peter Siddle from the last ball of the day for 58, and Petersen departed in the previous over.
Petersen was lbw to Trent Copeland, who celebrated his first wicket of the match and his 100th in first-class cricket. It ended a 103-run stand between Petersen and Tsolekile, a partnership that frustrated Michael Clarke's men, all the more because Mitchell Johnson had reduced the hosts to 0 for 2 when he was handed the new ball.
Perhaps the surface had lost some of its spice - certainly few deliveries were flying at the batsmen's heads late in the day, unlike the morning - but Petersen still batted very well under pressure after his first-innings duck. Dropped at slip on 9 when Ricky Ponting couldn't cling on to an express edge off Johnson that ran away to the third-man boundary, Petersen soon found his rhythm.
The turning point in his mindset came when he struck 16 off Peter Siddle's first over as the bowler dropped too short, four boundaries meaning Siddle had already conceded as many runs as he had during his 14 overs in the first innings. Petersen struck 17 fours during his hundred, which came up with a thick edge to the boundary off Siddle from his 140th delivery, and he celebrated with a sigh of relief and a raise of his bat.
He had solid support at the other end from Tsolekile, who kept the runs ticking over and brought up his half-century from his 80th ball, with a boundary steered to third man off Copeland. It was a difficult day for Copeland, whose lack of pace made him a much less threatening prospect than the genuinely quick men on a fast pitch.
Johnson enjoyed the rare use of the new ball and in his first over trapped Dean Elgar lbw with a good fullish delivery before he had Stiaan van Zyl caught at gully in his second over. There was another pair of wickets later on when Nathan Lyon enjoyed his first breakthroughs of the match, JP Duminy (32) caught behind when he was done by bounce and turn attempting a cut, and then Farhaan Behardien caught behind prodding outside off.
Lyon missed the hat-trick, dropping a fraction too short, and that was the start of the Petersen-Tsolekile partnership. It was the second-biggest stand of the match, after the 131-run combination of Shaun Marsh and Michael Clarke that spilled into the second morning before de Lange kicked off his destructive efforts.
de Lange collected 5 for 56 in an impressive performance as South Africa A took 6 for 93 in the first session, before Michael Hussey and Lyon pushed the total up to a more respectable 236. de Lange began with the wicket of Marsh, who on 57 miscued an attempted pull and was caught and mid-on, before Ryan McLaren chipped and trapped Clarke lbw for 76.
Those wickets marked the start of a period during which Australians lost 5 for 24 as de Lange showed the kind of promise that has rocketed him into South Africa A's team within a year of his first-class debut. Brad Haddin was caught at gully for a duck and next ball Johnson was lbw, failing to cover the ball properly as de Lange came around the wicket.
The hat-trick delivery was an ill-judged bouncer that flew well over Siddle's head, but de Lange accounted for Siddle for 2 soon afterwards when the batsman tried to duck a short ball and skied a catch to gully off the shoulder of the bat. It left Australia at 176 for 8, still trailing by seven runs, and their chances of taking the leads took another blow when de Lange had Copeland caught down leg side, a brilliant take by the wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile, who leapt high to his left to make a one-handed take. Then came a 58-run stand between Hussey and Lyon.
Spin might play more of a role over the next two days if the pitch flattens out. Whatever the case, South Africa A need to push their lead on well past 200 to give themselves a realistic chance of victory.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo