At Adelaide, November 22-26, 2012. Drawn. Toss: Australia. Test debut: F. du Plessis.

In pitiless heat, and at a ground in the throes of extensive rebuilding, South Africa staged a four-day retreat after a disastrous start, and had just enough in reserve to keep the series at 0-0. In effect, it was Duminy's injury that saved them, for it provided a first Test cap for 28-year-old Faf du Plessis, who had 26 one-day internationals already behind him, but looked ready-made for Test cricket: calm, collected, compact and versatile. He batted a total of 11 hours 11 minutes in the game, including the entirety of the last day, falling in the first innings only in the act of hitting out with the No. 11 at the crease, and unconquerable in the second as South Africa stumbled towards sanctuary.

Another injury was also crucial, as Pattinson sustained a side strain in his tenth over, raising the suspicion he would have been wiser to skip the game; as it was, he had to be scratched from the rest of the Test summer. Siddle and Hilfenhaus toiled so manfully in his stead that they bowled themselves to a standstill and out of the third Test.

But all that lay ahead when the Australians dominated the game's opening stanzas. Warner responded to the loss of three early wickets - including Quiney and Ponting, squared up by a beauty from Kallis - in the only way he knows, with powerful, crazybrave strokes, enjoying the reshaping of both the arena (21 metres had been trimmed from the straight boundaries, six from the already modest square ones) and South Africa's attack. They were without Vernon Philander, who woke up on the first morning with a sore neck, and included Imran Tahir, who might have ended the day with a sore neck after following the sixes that greeted his inconsistent legbreaks.

They also lost Kallis, who pulled up with hamstring trouble in his fourth over. Warner reached his third Test century shortly after lunch, from 93 balls, with a straight six and a cover-driven four off Tahir. It was an impressive retort from a batsman who had endured a thin time of it since his fine hundred against New Zealand a year earlier.

This assault, however, was merely a prelude, for Clarke and Hussey rampaged through the afternoon as if accelerating towards a declaration. In reaching his fourth Test double-century of the year - a world record - Clarke was particularly harsh on Tahir (whom he hit for 79 off 69 balls) and Morkel (70 off 56), and took Morkel's 18th over for five imperious boundaries. Hussey, as ever, provided industry and enthusiasm, although he too meted out heavy punishment to Tahir (51 from 48). Tahir went at nearly eight an over while taking none for 180; his final match analysis of none for 260 would be the most expensive wicketless performance in all Tests, just beating Khan Mohammad's none for 259 for Pakistan in West Indies' only innings at Kingston in 1957-58, when Garry Sobers made 365 not out.

After adding 272 with Clarke, Australia's highest stand for the fifth wicket in Tests at Adelaide, Hussey was bowled by the last ball of a shortened day to leave his side 482 for five, including 202 in the final session, with 66 fours and nine sixes in all. Only once before had a team scored more on the first day of a Test: Australia hit 494 for six against South Africa at Sydney in 1910-11.

From this point, South Africa could do no better than draw, and set out to do just that, dismissing Clarke soon after the restart on the second morning for 230 off 257 balls, and winnowing away the rest of the Australian innings. They batted patiently after lunch, with Smith shielding his stumps and country for nearly five hours. Petersen helped put on 138, then ran himself out in lackadaisical fashion when Hussey's direct hit from mid-on punished a failure to ground the bat. Otherwise it was a fine effort, ended only by a mysterious caught-behind decision, which Smith reviewed immediately. He was bemused by the merest heat signature on the outside edge; it is conceivable he did not feel it.

The staged withdrawal continued into the third day, as the poised du Plessis was joined at the fall of the seventh wicket by Kallis who, with the minimum of footwork and running between wickets, added 93 with him in 30 overs. Australia's bowlers were now starting to feel the pinch in the enervating heat, and Clarke did his best to spread the wear, then let them put their feet up for 70 overs as his batsmen set up a target of 430. After Quiney completed a pair, Hussey played with alacrity, and Ponting with uncertainty, dragging on for his third failure of the summer: little did the crowd know as he traipsed off, but Australia's greatest Test run-scorer was running down his own clock.

Clarke gave his depleted attack about 150 overs to polish off the South Africans, although they made such early inroads this appeared ample: when Petersen was bowled by Siddle in the 21st over, it was 45 for four. But former schoolmates de Villiers and du Plessis painstakingly saw out the rest of the day, adding 32 in 29 overs with the deadest of bats, and resumed next morning with similar deliberation.

South Africa now demonstrated that their No. 1 Test ranking was a function not only of winning, but of not losing too. At first it appeared that batsmen operating so defensively must eventually err through negativity, but the pitch was now playing truly: the challenge was concentration and endurance rather than deceitful deliveries. The pair batted deep into the day, before de Villiers finally nicked the second new ball from Siddle after an innings of 220 deliveries, from only 23 of which he scored; he did not hit a single boundary.

The bowler who caused du Plessis most trouble was actually Clarke, who had him given out by Billy Bowden at 33 and 37, lbw both times, only to be reprieved on review. du Plessis also caused the Australians to use up their final review, when on 49 he offered no shot to a turning delivery from Lyon; and to waste their one chance in the over before tea, when on 94 he nicked Hilfenhaus to Wade, who missed it standing up. After 41 balls in the nineties, du Plessis became South Africa's fourth Test-debut centurion.

Kallis remained with du Plessis for a further two and a half hours, marginally less mobile than in the first innings, though immobility somehow became him under the circumstances. This time they added 99 from 235 balls, before Lyon at last had Kallis caught at bat-pad. The tail provided further passive resistance, as Siddle hurled himself into the fray during a last, puffing, panting, red-faced, valiant spell, yorking Kleinveldt with four overs to go and two wickets required. But the game ended with Morkel blocking out the last over, then - touchingly - lifting the diminutive Cowan off his feet at short leg from the sheer emotion of it all.

Man of the Match: F. du Plessis.

Close of play: first day, Australia 482-5 (Clarke 224); second day, South Africa 217-2 (Smith 111, Rudolph 25); third day, Australia 111-5 (Clarke 9, Hussey 5); fourth day, South Africa 77-4 (de Villiers 12, du Plessis 19).