At Port Elizabeth, February 20-23, 2014. South Africa won by 231 runs. Toss: South Africa. Test debut: Q. de Kock.
The match may have begun on a note of chaos for Graeme Smith, but it evolved into a triumphant retort for his smarting team. The Australians were first neutralised by a subcontinental pitch, then splintered by reverse swing. It left the series 1-1, with everything to play for at Newlands.
Before the game, the Port Elizabeth surface had a generous carpet of grass. But after consultation with home coach and local man Russell Domingo it was shaved off. Of more immediate concern was the news that Philander was suffering from a muscle strain. Smith crossed his name off the teamsheet and wrote in Rory Kleinveldt, before being reassured, moments before the toss, that Philander was fit to play. The farce played out in full view.
Presumably, Smith was as relieved to retreat to the dressing-room as he was to bat first. But Harris produced a staunch new-ball spell to claim him lbw, and Johnson found a hint of swing to pin Amla. The disconcerting bounce of Centurion was absent, however, and the bowlers were worn down by Elgar, replacing the unwell Alviro Petersen, and by the middle order. Elgar, whose only previous encounter with Australia had brought a pair on debut, knuckled down, using the extra time afforded by the pitch to manoeuvre the ball into gaps; twice he launched Lyon over the fence. De Villiers, batting patiently, crafted one of his slower centuries, and provided a lesson in diligence for the debutant, Quinton de Kock, who showed that, for all his precocious talent, he had work to do on his shot selection. Duminy was more balanced, and his fluent hundred exploited some increasingly tired bowling.
The innings rolled along to a gentle conclusion, before the apparent deadness of the pitch fostered a lazy approach from the Australians: in the 25 overs before the close, they lurched to 112 for four. Warner's innings of 65 was either crazy or brave, and perhaps both. (He would later be fined 15% of his match fee for suggesting de Villiers was using his wicketkeeping gloves to roughen the ball, and so encourage reverse swing.) Certainly, South Africa made the most of the new ball: Philander trapped Rogers lbw, and later prompted an overeager Clarke to play too early and offer a catch to short cover; Parnell, recalled after four years as Ryan McLaren had been concussed at Centurion, coaxed an edge from Doolan with his first delivery, and another from Marsh with his third. Even though Parnell was lost to a groin injury on the third morning, the incisions were beyond Australia's powers of regeneration once Warner fell. They conceded a yawning deficit of 177. It was hard to say which was the more ominous: Steyn's reverse movement, or the unbridled aggression of Morkel, who aimed at the badge of tail-end helmets.
Johnson soon had Smith dragging on, but from there Amla dominated the attack with a familiar mix of silk and steel. The Australians found scant movement off the pitch or through the air, and Harris later said he felt like a bowling machine. A threatening forecast influenced Smith's declaration on the fourth morning, which notionally left Australia more than five sessions to reach 448 - with little to fear in the pitch.
For 29 overs, Warner and Rogers made the declaration appear optimistic, scoring freely and scattering the field. But the winkling out of Warner by Duminy heralded a passage in which Rogers and Doolan were becalmed, so allowing South Africa to prepare the ball for more swing. Doolan's composure at Centurion gave way to paralysis here and, by the time he snicked his 43rd delivery to Graeme Smith from a fiery Morkel, batting had become a challenging task. In lengthening shadows, mayhem ensued, with Steyn swerving through Clarke, Steven Smith and Haddin in a matter of minutes; Rogers fought almost alone in his attempt to push the match into a fifth day and - perhaps - a rain-affected draw.
With three wickets to claim, South Africa were granted the extra half-hour. Steyn had Harris lbw, before Rogers, who had reached a century of great poise and good sense, was run out trying to farm the strike. In light too gloomy for the quicks, Smith turned to Elgar's occasional left-arm spin. With his fourth ball he trapped Lyon leg-before. Replays showed it had touched the bat, and would have missed the stumps. But Australia had exhausted their reviews. While a stunned Lyon vainly stood his ground, the South Africans celebrated wildly.
Man of the Match: J-P. Duminy.
Man of the Match: J-P. Duminy.