Errant batting by a wanton Australian outfit followed by commanding work from the hosts' new opening pair allowed South Africa to take a stranglehold on the third and final match of this series here yesterday. Pin-point bowling by a persistent South African side took them into a commanding position on a pitch offering encouragement to all parties.
After winning the toss and reaching 57 for 0, the visitors lost wickets steadily in the face of full-length bowling from the pacemen and clever variations from Paul Harris. Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini also stood out, though the Xhosa remained luckless untill the tailenders took guard.
Whilst Phillip Hughes was driving and cutting in the first hour it seemed that the tourists might dominate a shaken opponent. Seldom has a team taken to the field with a reluctant captain and a resentful opener and prospered. To make matters worse, the hosts dropped two sitters before lunch with Imraan Khan and JP Duminy the culprits.
Ntini endured agonies as Katich scratched around and not until the the ball was thrown to Harris did wickets start to tumble. Hughes promptly started swinging the willow, missed a sweep and was dispatched by Steve Bucknor, skilfully presiding over his 127th and final Test.
Now the game took a surprising turn. Vulnerable to pitched up curlers early in his innings, Ponting omitted to move his feet and snicked an outswinger from Albie Morkel. Michael Hussey appeared in the pink of form as he cracked back foot boundaries only to play on to his stumps. Michael Clarke followed, trapped on the crease by Steyn's raw pace. Australia had lost 4 wickets for 24 runs.
Thereafter the visitors waxed and waned as the hosts remained constant. Brad Haddin timed his drives sweetly and added 71 with Katich whereupon the obdurate left-hander fell to Harris. The gloveman was next, beaten by the spinner's change of pace after tea. Ntini's efforts were then rewarded before Steyn returned to round up the stragglers.
South Africa's new and cosmopolitan opening pair immediately imposed themselves: Ashwell Prince led the way with pugnacious drives whilst Imraan held firm.