Brett Lee and Damien Martyn were more than happy to take the light with Australia still 44 runs short of victory
© Getty Images|
Brett Lee and Damien Martyn couldn't get into the dressing-room quick enough as bad light allowed Australia to regroup their thoughts after another fierce day in The Bullring. Their collapse of 4 for 39 turned a comfortable march towards a clean sweep into a nip-and-tuck battle against a South African team trying to take something from a tough summer.
If Australia go on to cross the winning line, South Africa will rue the fading light as they had the momentum. A 4-1 or 5-0 margin from six Tests, spread over two continents this summer, would not alter in any way the balance of power - Australia have played the sharper, smarter cricket when it has mattered - but ask any English supporter who followed their team through the 90s: a dead-rubber victory still makes life look a lot rosier.
South Africa's bowlers, who have shouldered an added burden with Andre Nel only able to send down two overs, will have a night's sleep under their belts so they can give it one final charge in the morning. The new ball is eight deliveries away and it has been the periods with a hard ball that have proved the toughest for batsmen.
Makhaya Ntini will be at the heart of the action, as he has been throughout this match, and more than most deserves to come out on the winning side. Whenever he has been thrown the ball he has charged in and given his all, carrying the attack on his shoulders. He is now firmly South Africa's go-to man.
He will need to produce more of the same on the final morning, especially against Damien Martyn, who finally repaid the faith shown in him by the selectors. Brad Hodge and Michael Clarke are talented enough players to have produced a similar innings, but the relaxed appearance of the Australian dressing-room as Martyn walked in at 33 for 2 suggests they were pleased to have his 63 Tests-worth of experience in the middle.
He eased himself into the innings, still flirting with the loose prods outside off stump that cost him his wicket during the Ashes and ultimately his place in the Test team at the start of the Australian summer. But his movements slowly became more aligned and a couple of his threaded cover-drives were reminiscent of his very best form.
Who Martyn has in the hutch still to support him is open to question, but just as tonight is a time for the South African bowlers to recharge their batteries, it gives Justin Langer and Michael Kasprowicz the opportunity to nurse their injuries for another 12 hours. Langer's concussion is the more serious concern for Australia - and he looked far from being ready to bat tonight - but they will also want Kasprowicz fully mobile in case he has to counter a short-pitched barrage from Ntini.
Kasprowicz and Lee have recent history when it comes to final-day run chases, and although tomorrow will not come anywhere near matching the tension of Edgbaston they will still see it as a chance at least to continue the healing process. No one would be surprised, either, if Langer returned to the heat of battle. He will not want his 100th Test to be remembered for the one ball he faced in the first innings, and given Australia's knowledge of cricketing folklore it would be apt if he was in the middle at the end of thrilling Test match.
Langer's career started with a one-run defeat against West Indies, at Adelaide in 1992-93, when he was ninth man out for 54 and watched as Tim May and Craig McDermott took Australia to the absolute brink. This match does not carry the weight of that immense Test, but Australia hate losing and South Africa are desperate to grab a consolation. The final part of this contest will not be for the faint-hearted.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo