SA vs AUS: Aussies on the charge in gripping finish to day 4

SA vs AUS, On a field that was intended to favor spin bowling, Australia’s two-pronged speed attack ripped through South Africa’s weak batting in an explosive closing session, setting up an improbable drive for an outright win and a series sweep in a rain-ruined Test match. After almost three hours were taken from a game that had earlier lost over 140 overs to rain and poor light in Sydney, Australia captain Pat Cummins abruptly abandoned intentions to bat today and instead took aim with the ball.

Cummins (3-29) and Josh Hazlewood (2-29) scythed through the Proteas’ top order to leave them at 6-149 with a minimum of 98 overs to bowl on day five tomorrow. With their greatest hitters already out, they are 326 runs behind Australia in their first innings. Given the amount of time wasted due to weather and accompanying difficulties, it is extremely probable that Australia will defy previous precedents and impose the follow-on to attempt to force a remarkable outright result.

SA vs AUS, Aussies on the charge

SA vs AUS Aussies on the charge in gripping finish to day 4-1

While the sun momentarily reappeared this afternoon, a return to thick overcast added a proper air of gloom to a thrilling final hour in which Cummins and Hazlewood unleashed aggressive periods of devastating fast bowling while Nathan Lyon seemed set to grab a wicket with his off-spin practically every delivery. Proteas bowling allrounder Marco Jansen took the brunt of the pace duo’s wrath, receiving a few of stinging punches on the upper arm as Cummins targeted Jansen’s 207cm frame with a series of bouncers thrown from around the wicket for maximum agony.

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To Jansen’s credit, he survived where his more experienced top-order colleagues had failed, but he faces another tough test tomorrow if his side is and defy momentum and their previous pattern of batting weakness to win the match. After entering the series as South Africa’s lone Test batsman with extensive Test experience, captain Dean Elgar found himself in a jam repelling a Hazlewood bouncer from around the wicket that provided a catch behind off his glove.

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The 35-year-old, who is playing his 82nd Test, one less than the combined total of his top-six colleagues, needs at least 19 runs if the Proteas bat again in this match to avoid having his lowest average in a Test series since his debut in 2012. So far this season, he has 46 runs from five innings at an average of 9.2, his previous low being the 10.75 he averaged in the two-Test series against Sri Lanka in South Africa four years ago. That median would have been considerably thinner if a comprehensive video review had cleared Steve Smith’s instinctive grab at the second slip when Elgar was on six.

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Instead, third umpire Richard Kettleborough ruled that the ball had struck the ground when Smith grasped it between his thumb and forefinger as it sailed past his right foot, despite Smith’s amazing attempt to pluck it between his extended fingers as it raced past his right foot. To decide differently would have been a moral injustice to the visitors, who were confident they had Marnus Labuschagne’s wicket in identical circumstances on day one, only to be refused due to the lack of conclusive video evidence.

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Batting had clearly become a considerably difficult prospect on the SCG surface since the last effort on Thursday evening, and it was not a surprise that the Proteas quickly launched on another of their famous top-order implosions. Opener Sarel Erwee had held off the speed of Hazlewood and Cummins, only to be undone by a stroke of Lyon’s wizardry, who pushed through a quicker, shorter ball that the left-hander elected to let go, only for it to go on with the bowler’s arm and graze off-stump.

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Erwee has only made one half-century in 15 innings since making a century in his second Test debut at Christchurch last February, averaging 21.3. With both openers dismissed inside 18 overs, the onus rested on keeper-batter Heinrich Klaasen, whose sole prior Test participation came in 2019 and who was summoned for this game to fill the unfamiliar position of number three. Rassie van der Dussen (0 and 5 at Brisbane) and Theunis de Bruyn (12 and 28 at Melbourne before leaving home for family reasons) have both failed to offer tough opposition in that vital role for the Proteas this series.

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Klaasen’s appearance was equally brief, as he was caught behind for two runs when Cummins launched a ball at his left hip, which the hitter attempted to deflect only to have it brushed his glove. However, he might have been sent back for a duck eight overs earlier when a vehement lbw appeal from Hazlewood was refused by umpire Richard Gaffney and, when reviewed by Cummins, third umpire Kettleborough was unable to determine if the ball had touched the bat as well as the pad.

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There was no mistake about Temba Bavuma’s dismissal half an hour after tea when he nicked off to a Hazlewood delivery that showed the first signs of the reverse swing that both sides anticipated to be a problem in this match given the dry, abrasive field surface. Bavuma, like his top-order comrades, was given a life when he threw his pad forward at Lyon on 16, where the ball soared skyward and grazed his glove before bouncing towards the silly point, where Travis Head was too concentrated on appealing for lbw rather than completing the catch.

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Despite short bursts of aggression from Bavuma and Khaya Zondo, who both bludgeoned a pair of sixes – all off Lyon – South Africa was helpless to halt the wicket-taking. Cummins, working above the wicket and targeting the rough beyond the right-leg hander’s stump from where the ball would bounce unpredictably, followed a soaring high bouncer with a blistering low yorker.

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When the ball thudded into Zondo’s back leg in front of the middle and leg stumps, umpire Gaffaney granted the boisterous appeal immediately, but the batter elected to review and appeared genuinely amused when replays verified what the naked eye already knew. Cummins then unleashed his full wrath on Jansen and then Verreynne, who had already had a lucky spell at the wicket, with the floodlights blazing and the action-starved crowd of 19,134 bayings.

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Verreynne rode his luck to the finish, having just avoided being run out on 0 when Ashton Agar’s throw missed the stumps by a hair, then being dropped by the same fielder on 10 when a miscued pull almost stuck in Agar’s extended left hand. A searing Cummins short ball shot into his rib cage was fended agonizingly short of waiting catchers on the off-side before Australia’s captain’s choice to switch attack to over the wicket proved flawless when South Africa’s best-performed batsman of the series edged to slip.

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The Proteas were left in familiar trouble at 6-137, with just allrounder Jansen and a slew of under-performing tailenders to carry their team to stumps and the possibility of salvaging a draw tomorrow. The bad news for visitors is that no rain is anticipated for the day ahead for the first time in the new-year Test. When play resumed at 1.45 pm this afternoon, the rain delay that began at the final drinks break on Thursday evening had lasted 44 hours and 49 minutes, costing 170 overs.

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That break may have been cut short sooner if it hadn’t been discovered on the pitch’s edge at the Paddington end of the SCG, where water had crept exactly at the spot fast bowlers would launch into their delivery stride. As the light broke through the overcast that had enveloped the city for three days, ground personnel began urgent repairs that entailed cutting chunks of grass from the muddy region and replacing them with drier bricks hewn from the outfield.

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These replacement pieces were subsequently hammered into place and packed with absorbent sawdust, and they were put to the test immediately by Australia’s pacemen, including captain Pat Cummins, who had proclaimed his intention to declare at the day two total of 4-475. Usman Khawaja was left stranded on 195 not out, missing short on his first Test double-century. Only West Indies icon Frank Worrell (197 versus England in Barbados in 1960) and India batting genius Sachin Tendulkar have been denied a double-ton due to captain declarations (194 against Pakistan at Multan in 2004).

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With a mandatory minimum of 157 overs remaining in the Test, the luxury of allowing Khawaja even a couple of deliveries to achieve the milestone, with a further 10 minutes being wasted due to a change of innings, was deemed too lavish. When the second delivery of South Africa’s chase – delivered down by Hazlewood, who took the new ball – rose from a length and caught the shoulder of Elgar’s bat, and sailed beyond of Khawaja at third slip for a streaky boundary, the choice to bowl at first chance seemed clever.

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The Proteas would need to produce a batting performance of remarkable bravery and talent to survive the day’s final three hours without severe harm. It was immediately evident that the visitors were not up to the challenge in the face of ruthless Australian bowling and fielding.

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