Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers might well have batted Australia out of the Wanderers Test, according to South Africa opener Jacques Rudolph. The pair came together with South Africa having slipped to 90 for 3, effectively 60 for 3 because of their deficit, but their unbroken 139-run partnership has put South Africa in a winning position.
"When we lost the first three wickets upfront, you still felt a little bit like the game was balanced on a knife edge," Rudolph said. "But I thought those two [Amla and de Villiers] almost took it away from the Australians."
South Africa only need a draw to win the two-Test series and claim their first series win over Australia at home since readmission. However, Rudolph, as well as assistant coach Russell Domingo, said the team is still targeting a clean sweep of the visitors. They have been in discussion about what a comfortable enough lead would be.
"I was speaking to Jacques Kallis and he also said that if we get anything around 300, it's a competitive score and the Aussies will still be in with a chance," Rudolph said. "Around 350 or 400, will be a good score. Tomorrow morning we've got 11 overs before the second new ball, which might give Hashim and AB a chance to get in and set up another good one or two sessions." Rudolph said South Africa hoped to be "bowling in the afternoon" to give themselves enough time to dismiss Australia.
Domingo said South Africa's task will be to accumulate runs briskly on the fourth morning. "It's a long way from looking at declarations. We know it's generally a quick scoring ground here, so scoring runs tomorrow morning is going to be crucially important," he said. "How much we set them and if we declare or don't declare is not on anyone's mind at the moment, it's just to have enough to give us a good chance of winning the Test match."
With the pitch remaining a good strip for batting, Domingo said South Africa cannot afford to "be stupid" about the size of the target they set Australia. "We have to give the bowlers enough runs to [be able to employ] carry a third slip and the gully," he said. "At a place like the Wanderers, where scores can be chased down because of the nature of the outfield and the altitude, we've got to be clever about what type of carrot we are going to dangle, if we are going to dangle a carrot."
Although the strip remains batsmen-friendly, something is also expected to be in it for the bowlers throughout the match. Rudolph said the result may hinge on which side have the more patient attack. "It [the track] has proven that if you just stick to the one area, there is enough in it for the bowlers. So it will come down to the bowler who will be willing to do that the most consistently."
Australia's bowlers, barring Patrick Cummins, struggled on the third day. Siddle bowled well but was unable to make a breakthrough, and Mitchell Johnson shortened his run-up without devastating effects. Shane Watson said the bowlers are aware that they will need to find some extra spark, because they do not expect a favour, in the form of a sporting declaration, from South Africa. "We're going to have to bowl them out, there's no way they are going to let us in," he said. "If we were in the position they are in, we'd be doing the same thing."
Watson said Australia will be up for the task, whatever it is. "If a few guys have a really good day, it means we can chase down a big total," he said.
Wet weather may thwart both teams' plans, with rain forecast for most of the fourth day. Domingo said South Africa have not been keeping an eye on the clouds, though, and will stick to their plan of playing positively. "Our mindset will be to look to win, not to depend on weather to save [win] a Test series."