The odds are stacked high against South Africa as their batters face trying to avoid turning the second Test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground into something akin to a four-day franchise game, ending the third day still needing 371 runs to avoid an innings defeat.
The Proteas batted for just seven overs in their second innings on Wednesday, but in that time they lost captain Dean Elgar, caught down the leg-side for a duck. Sarel Erwee (7*) and Theunis de Bruyn (6*) then took them to 15/1 when rain stopped play at 4.21pm local time.
Mitchell Starc, bleeding from the finger he dislocated in the field on the first day, swung the ball prodigiously, but it was captain Pat Cummins who grabbed the wicket as he bowled three successive maidens.
The bowlers have been through one of their toughest tests as Australia piled on 575/8 declared, their biggest total against South Africa since they smashed 652/7 declared at the Wanderers in 2002. It meant the Proteas conceded a monstrous 386-run first-innings lead.
Anrich Nortje produced a thrilling double-strike in his second over of the day as he bowled Travis Head for a dashing 51, shaping the ball back into the left-hander. That brought second-day hero David Warner back to the crease, the left-hander celebrating his 100th Test having retired hurt with severe cramps upon reaching his epic 200*.
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But Nortje, whose tremendous fast bowling the previous day had thrilled the MCG crowd almost as much as Warner’s innings, bowled the veteran opener first ball back with an excellent yorker.
Cummins survived the hat-trick ball but was then caught behind off Kagiso Rabada for 4. With Cameron Green and Starc both nursing hand injuries, South Africa may have expected to wrap the innings up quickly as Nathan Lyon came to the crease with Australia on 400/6, leading by 211.
But Lyon batted brightly to score 25 off 17 balls as he and Alex Carey put on a quickfire 40, and the wicketkeeper/batsman carried on in exhilarating fashion to an exciting maiden Test century, one that ensured Australia enjoyed an insurmountable lead.
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With Green surprisingly returning to the crease with a fractured finger and defending stoutly, Carey feasted on the tired bowling on a flat pitch, scoring a superb 111 off 149 balls before offering a return catch to Marco Jansen as he tried to withdraw his bat from a steepling, tennis-ball bounce lifter from the left-arm quick.
Green became more fluent the longer he was at the crease, but his 51 not out was still a grind, albeit a brave one, coming off 177 deliveries in 224 minutes.
Having bowled themselves into the ground, South Africa’s bowlers eventually received some respite when Australia declared shortly before tea, having batted for 145 overs. Nortje earned immense respect for his effort as he finished with 3/92 in 25 overs.
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