South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 4th day November 20, 2011

Series heads for gripping finish


Australia 296 & 142 for 3 (Ponting 54*, Clarke 1*) trail South Africa 266 & 339 (Amla 105, de Villiers 73, Cummins 6-79) by 168 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Aided greatly by Usman Khawaja, Ricky Ponting summoned his deepest reserves of skill and focus to give Australia a fighting chance of chasing 310 to square the two-match series against South Africa.

Ponting's 122-run union with the sure-handed Khawaja, who was out to Imran Tahir only one ball before the close, took the tourists to 142 for 3, leaving the match and series deliciously poised with one day remaining.

In an innings critical to his career and perhaps the manner of its conclusion, Ponting presented the straightest bat he has managed in quite some time to make a first Test half-century since the opening Test of the Ashes series last December. The captain Michael Clarke will accompany Ponting on the final morning.

Dale Steyn's bold striking meant the tourists required the highest fourth innings target to win a Test at the Wanderers, despite a stirring six-wicket haul on debut for the 18-year-old Pat Cummins.

Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes failed to repeat their first innings displays, both out to Vernon Philander with only 19 scored, but Ponting and Khawaja dulled the home side's offensive.

Without Steyn's 41, speckled with three sixes, Australia might easily have been chasing a target as thin as 250, after the hosts lost 4 for 29 in the morning to be 266 for 7. Cummins' remarkable efforts, adding up to one of the most outstanding debuts by an Australia fast bowler in the past 40 years, prevented South Africa from making the game entirely safe.

Hashim Amla went on to a deserved 105 from his overnight 89, but was involved in a run-out to account for Ashwell Prince and then became Mitchell Johnson's third wicket of the series. Nathan Lyon delivered another useful spell, only to be denied the wicket of Steyn via the vagaries of the DRS.

Australia's openers added 174 in the first innings, but in the second Watson allowed Philander to crash a straight delivery into off stump second ball, and after a pair of boundaries Hughes sparred at the same bowler to present a catch to Jacques Kallis in the slips.

Khawaja had begun with a pair of wonderfully crisp boundaries in Philander's first over and Ponting, the eyes of the cricket world upon him in the manner of Mark Taylor at Edgbaston in 1997 or Steve Waugh at Sydney in 2003, eluded the early shuffle and lbw that had confounded him so far on this tour. Though he was beaten by the odd seaming delivery, twice Ponting swivelled into the pull shots of his pomp. Khawaja proved equally adept with a horizontal bat, and Australia's 50 was raised before tea.

Play resumed in bright sunshine, and Ponting made hay in the company of Khawaja to frustrate the diligent efforts of South Africa's bowlers. Slowly, but increasingly surely, they met the challenge of each bowler, be it Steyn's pace, Philander's line or Morne Morkel's bounce. Tahir's introduction had Ponting scampering down the wicket almost every ball, and overthrows gifted Khawaja a first half-century in his fourth Test.

Steyn was straining every sinew in search of a wicket, but Khawaja in particular was able to pick him off for runs, and one hook sailed over the head of fine leg for a splendid six. There were the vaguest signs of fatigue or discomfort from Steyn, in a match that has tested the stamina of bowlers on both sides.

Khawaja was on 65 when Tahir switched to over the wicket against Australia's No. 3. A natural against pace, Khawaja is still learning to read spin, and he prodded uncertainly forward to edge a googly to slip. Clarke only had time to face one ball, pushed for a single, before the umpires tramped off for bad light and eventually called stumps.

The tourists had needed a rush of wickets on the fourth morning, and Clarke started off with Cummins and Johnson in search of it. Swinging the old ball prodigiously at times, Cummins maintained his rapid progress when he coaxed de Villiers into chasing one that curled away. Clarke held the catch and dared to hope.

Amla completed a century of formidable composure, cuffing Peter Siddle through point to get there, but his insistence on a short single to the right of Ponting resulted in a mix-up with Prince and the left-hander's exit. Johnson, still somewhat out of sorts, was able to produce a handy cutter that took Amla's outside edge on the way through to Brad Haddin, and suddenly Australia's position was arguably the one preferred by neutrals.

Mark Boucher swatted three boundaries before driving at Lyon and snicking to slip. He loitered at the crease partly because he also hit the ground, as well as out of recognition that not much batting remained after him. Steyn had made only five and the lead was only 246 when he was beaten by a Lyon off break and so very nearly lbw. But the umpire Billy Bowden demurred, suspecting an inside edge, and Australia's referral was refused, not for an inside edge but because the ball's projected path was not hitting enough of leg stump.

This episode felt more damaging in the ensuing overs, as Steyn demonstrated the knack for nuisance batting he had famously shown with JP Duminy at the MCG in 2008, and Philander played with the level of skill befitting a No. 8. Clarke tried Michael Hussey before reverting belatedly to the second new ball.

Nearing lunch, Steyn swung hard at Johnson and edged through the hands of Clarke, and Siddle moved the ball too much to claim the outside edge the tourists so desperately required.

Having rested up in the latter part of the morning session, Cummins produced a snorter first ball after lunch to clip the glove of Philander. Bowden hesitated before giving Philander out, but the batsman's decision-referral found just enough circumstantial evidence to ensure the original call was upheld. Next ball Cummins whirred down a yorker to wreck the stumps of Morne Morkel, thus claiming five wickets, and Imran Tahir did well to keep out a hat-trick ball that tailed away.

By surviving the over Tahir allowed Steyn to keep blazing away, and he lustily struck sixes off Siddle and Cummins. Those hits, plus a glove down the legside, added precious runs. Tahir managed one boundary himself, but Steyn eventually nicked Cummins behind to conclude yet another beguiling passage in this all-too-short series.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on November 22, 2011, 0:09 GMT

    @zenboomerang - re: Ponting; I understand all that (2yrs of poor form). The issue for me (& I suspect the selectors) is that its far easier to get a GREAT batsmen up & firing - then uncovering a POTENTIAL great. If Ponting (& I know it's an IF), was to play out the next two years averaging 50+, it wuld be agreed that it would be a good thing for Oz cricket. I have huge faith in the youngsters coming thru - but how many of them could POSSIBLY average 50 over 2 years? His 64 last night was scratchy & it wasn't the Punter of old, but I have seen, (maybe you haven't?), many aging champions come back against the odds & produce. I thought Dravid was gone for all money about a year ago - he is currently holding the Indian batting line up together. Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh are just acouple of Oz examples. My gut is telling me that Punter is more like Border who went into a terminal decline over 2 or 3 yrs. I think the selectors want to know for sure Waugh or Border?

  • Jason on November 21, 2011, 13:52 GMT

    Surely if Hughes is on notice then Ponting is in the same boat, whats his averge this series, 17.5? Australia really should be looking towards the future and not back with the likes of Punter. Kwahaja looks like a more than competent replacement for him. There are 3 places up for grabs at the moment, so an Aus team of the future is likely to be 1) Hughes/? ,2) Marsh, 3) Kwahja, 4) Clarke, 5) Watson , 6) ?, 7) Haddin, 8) Harris (Injury problems permitting)/?, 9) Cummings, 10) Siddle, 11) Lyon.

  • Luke on November 21, 2011, 9:17 GMT

    Australia's team for the future: 1) Hughes/Warner; 2) Marsh; 3) Ponting; 4) Clarle; 5) Hussey; 6) Watson; 7) Wade; 8) Cutting 9) Harris 10) Cummins 11) Lyon

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2011, 8:47 GMT

    facinating final day, result should be there, only rain can stop result, testing time for aussies batsman, if they overcome 309, they have to prove the standard, but it is difficult at the moment against styan and co under the conditions.

  • Cameron on November 21, 2011, 8:27 GMT

    My team for NZ would be: 1 - Khawaja (just looks like an opener to me) 2 - Hughes (on notice though with Warner batting well) 3 - Ponting 4 - Watson 5 - Clarke 6 - Hussey 7 - Wade - Will take the chance Paine will miss due to injury 8 - Cutting (Young, fast and in great form) 9 - Siddle (Also on notice with Starc, Hilfenhaus etc finding good form) 10 - Cummins 11 - Lyon 12 - Copeland

    I am assuming Marsh and Harris wont be fit.

  • ian on November 21, 2011, 7:54 GMT

    Great test match - and I'm joining the chorus of cricket lovers who wonder what genius came up with a two-test series when the quality of cricket and genuine competition is serving up the best of entertainment in SA. And the next test match is the nth between India and WIndies in this year! Oh dear - we live in cricket bedlam!

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2011, 7:22 GMT

    and here in jhb forget about the sun, overcast and rain all day and believe me when it drizzles in jhb it does so for a whole week

  • Chris on November 21, 2011, 6:52 GMT

    Anyone who has Siddle or Hilfenhaus in their Test XI clearly doesn't know much about test cricket. Siddle is just as inconsistent and rubbish as Johnson, except his good days are not as good. All three average over 30 (ie not world-class) and only Johnson has a half-decent strike rate. History shows that you cannot be the no.1 test team for very long without world class bowlers and therefore there is NO point in picking any of those guys in your team. It is no co-incidence that Australia's reign began and ended with Glenn McGrath's selection and retirement (Warne helped as well). Hilditch's biggest mistake was persisting with these rubbish bowlers for far too long.

    Congrats to Cummins, he seems to be a good bowler and his economy rate was surprisingly good for such a fast bowler as well. I'd like to see him work with a combination of Harris, Copeland (who deserves a few more games on familiar pitches before writing him off), Butterworth, Cutting, Coulter-Nile or Faulkner.

  • Marcio on November 21, 2011, 6:36 GMT

    Ponting will get his century (116), and if he gets support Australia will win). Put it down as one of his best ever. Guaranteed.

  • Jonny on November 21, 2011, 6:15 GMT

    Are SA and Aus really deserving to be inside top the 3 best test teams going around right now? Series has been highlighted by poor batting and with apart from some exceptions, mostly poor bowling. Aussie on the slide but SA don't look a lot better...

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