South Africa stonewall but Australia eye victory
South Africa 287 and 71 for 4 (de Villiers 16*, Abbott 1*, Johnson 2-31) need another 440 runs to beat Australia 494 for 7 dec and 303 for 5 dec (Warner 145, Abbott 3-61)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Adelaide, November 25, 2012. Set a record chase, South Africa go to stumps at 77 for 4 with AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis at the crease. Through the unwavering concentration of du Plessis, they salvage a miraculous draw.
Cape Town, March 4, 2014. Set a record chase, South Africa go to stumps at 71 for 4 with AB de Villiers and nightwatchman Kyle Abbott at the crease. Faf du Plessis is next in. Surely they couldn't do it again? Could they?
Michael Clarke must have thought back to that Adelaide Test as he made his declaration calculations on the fourth day at Newlands. That match was an opportunity missed, and now his men had the chance to redeem themselves and secure an away series win over South Africa. They had dominated the match so far, in no small part thanks to David Warner's twin centuries, but the job still needed finishing. A draw from this position might just feel like a win to the retiring Graeme Smith.
At 15 for 3 after Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris skittled Smith, Alviro Petersen and Dean Elgar, the result seemed a formality. Clarke's declaration 40 minutes before tea gave South Africa a nominal target of 511 runs, but their only realistic goal was batting out four and a half sessions to settle for a 1-1 series. A post-tea stonewalling effort from de Villiers and Hashim Amla gave them hope of achieving that feat.
In Australia's favour, the fifth day was due to start half an hour early to make up for the loss of play due to rain on day two. And unlike the Adelaide Test, where James Pattinson broke down and left Clarke a bowler short, here he had the complete artillery still at his disposal, including the allrounder Shane Watson, who did not play in that Adelaide Test.
Pattinson performed an important function as the sun set behind Table Mountain, trapping Amla lbw for 41 with a ball that jagged in sharply and rapped him right in front. A hopeful review did not save Amla, who had spent 148 minutes at the crease and faced 109 deliveries. His 53-run stand with de Villiers occupied 30.4 overs. The runs were irrelevant, the time they ate up was not.
South Africa's scorecard had more dots than an Ishihara test; de Villiers alone had negotiated 89 of them by stumps, of the 100 deliveries he had faced. At the close of play, de Villiers was on 16 and Abbott had 1. South Africa had added only 56 runs in the final session, but for the loss of only one wicket. That was important after the mini-collapse that occurred before tea.
Johnson ended Smith's Test batting career on a low note. Applauded through a guard of honour by the Australians on his way to the crease, Smith managed only 3 before he tickled a quick Johnson delivery on to his body and the catch lobbed up to Alex Doolan at short leg. He walked off to a standing ovation and turned around to raise his bat to all sections of the crowd, but knew he had missed the chance for one last captain's innings.
Johnson soon rattled the stumps of Dean Elgar, who missed a quick delivery that seamed away just a fraction, and it left South Africa on 15 for 3 after Ryan Harris had earlier trapped Alviro Petersen right in front. It completed a demoralising couple of sessions for South Africa, after Clarke delayed his declaration in order to completely bat South Africa out of the contest.
The runs came quickly in the second session as Warner, Watson and Steven Smith enjoyed the freedom to go for their shots and Graeme Smith, in his last acts as South Africa's captain in the field, had little choice but to send his men back to the boundary to save as many runs as possible. Clarke called an end to proceedings with the total on 303 for 5, with Smith unbeaten on 36 from 20 deliveries and Brad Haddin on 3.
Warner was the key man throughout Australia's innings and finished with 145 from 156 balls when he edged behind off Abbott, who ended up with three wickets. Not since Phillip Hughes in Durban in 2009 had an Australian scored two centuries in a Test. Warner had started the day briskly and moved to his half-century from 41 deliveries, although by lunch he had fallen below the run-a-ball rate.
The only man to fall in the first session was Chris Rogers, who on 39 virtually gave his wicket away with a slack piece of running between the wickets when he jogged back for a second having swivelled the ball to fine leg. The direct hit from the deep caught Rogers short as he failed to ground his bat properly, and it led to a decline in the scoring rate as Doolan came in and looked to get himself set.
Doolan played some nice shots on his way to 37, including a classy on-drive for four, but he used up 87 balls to get there and was out shortly after lunch when he was caught top-edging a hook. Watson struck a quick 25 from 17 balls and helped plunder 22 off one JP Duminy over before he was caught at point off the bowling of Abbott, and Clarke fell for a duck trying for quick runs.
In the field, South Africa were on a hiding to nothing but failed to show the intensity that might have been expected of them after Smith announced his retirement overnight. Dale Steyn bowled three overs with his hamstring injury but had no real impact. None of it really mattered. It was in the batting department that South Africa would need to show real fight if they were to save this match.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here