'We must dig deep to save series,' says Ponting

Australia 394 & 247 S Africa 459 & 30-0
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The Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, acknowledged yesterday that his side have to "execute perfectly" if they are to pull off the great escape against South Africa here in Melbourne today.

Their opponents go into the final day needing another 153 runs, with all 10 second-innings wickets remaining, to clinch a 2-0 series win ahead of the final game in Sydney.

If Australia lose, it will be their first home series defeat in 16 years and Ponting is aware his side need to pull out all the stops on day five. "Whenever we've got wickets against them we've got them in pretty quick succession," he said. "We have to make sure we just execute perfectly ... which is one area we probably haven't done as well as the South Africans in the first two games.

"That's the only option we've got. We've got to get out there and give it our best shot for as long as it takes ... and, hopefully, have some luck and we'll see what happens. We've all got to dig as deep as we can to dislodge a few of their batsmen and get a few nerves through their change room."

A day after surrendering control of the match to J P Duminy and the South African tail, Australia yesterday endured another torrid time in the middle. Only Ponting – who fell one run short of reaching a century in both innings of a Test for the fourth time in his career – and, to a lesser extent Mitchell Johnson, who made an unbeaten 43, demonstrated the necessary stomach to try to reverse the downturn. The other front-line batsmen had only themselves to blame, all falling to injudicious strokes.

Matthew Hayden failed to produce the career-saving innings for which his fans had been hoping, caught driving for 23. His fellow opener Simon Katich, the vice-captain Michael Clarke and in-form wicketkeeper Brad Haddin also lost their wickets driving at wide deliveries and, unlike the first innings, the tail did not come to the rescue.

Ponting is hoping he will be able to call on Brett Lee today even though the paceman is struggling with a foot injury. Lee's fitness will be monitored until this morning but the team's medical staff are hopeful the 32-year-old can draw on his famed courage to help Australia pull off a remarkable victory.

"[Lee's injury] has flared up really quickly and we hope it will plateau now a little bit, just enough to give us the chance to get a few more overs out of him," Ponting said.

The South Africa fast bowler Dale Steyn, who made another heroic contribution, taking his second five-wicket haul of the match and his 150th Test scalp a day after hitting a priceless 76, dismissed suggestions that the Proteas' nerves would hamper their ambitions, as on past occasions. "Many of the guys that are on this tour have never lost to Australia apart from a couple of senior players," he said. "So there's a fresh group of players out here who are not really worried about the history. We're more worried about the way we play cricket and what we've come to achieve."