Debutant Faf du Plessis orchestrated a century of Herculean proportions, as South Africa forced a stalemate under tremendous pressure in the second Test against Australia.

Resuming on 77 for four overnight, and unlikely to chase the 430 needed for victory, the Proteas crawled to 248 for eight from all of 148 overs at the Adelaide Oval on Monday.

At the fore of the of the draw was du Plessis' marathon 110 not out, which required almost six sessions of batting - and nerves of titanium. Complemented by the determination of AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, there was no budging the centurion, who displayed temperament and steel beyond his one Test cap.

Only the fourth South African to score a century on debut, and the 15th man to fetch a ton and half-ton in his first match, the gutsy 28-year-old saw off fast bowler Peter Siddle's potentially lethal reverse swing with relative ease, and hauled out all the tireless stops to stave off spinner Nathan Lyon.

Later shepherding tail-enders Dale Steyn, Rory Kleinveldt and Morne Morkel like a father would his children, there was little the indomitable du Plessis, who battled cramp through the latter stages of his innings, wouldn't do for his country's cause.

Pushed into the side as a replacement for the injured JP Duminy, many schools of thought will now consider him the first-choice selection when Duminy returns from a ruptured Achilles heel. Deservedly so.

The time spent at the crease during lengthy stands alongside de Villiers and Kallis was worth entirely more than the amount scored across the 89 and 99 runs accrued across the fifth- and sixth-wicket stands respectively. Du Plessis spent a veritable eternity in the 90s, with the calming influence of Kallis eventually seeing him to three figures.

Not centre stage but by no means the sideshow, Kallis' 46 from 110 deliveries and de Villiers' monumental 33 from a whopping 220 balls won't soon be forgotten. The former nursed a painful hamstring throughout, while the latter defied his natural aggression en route to a laboured strike-rate of 15.00. The doggedness, of course, was the demand.

The nature of the contest took its toll on all and sundry, with du Plessis and Siddle affected the most in the sapping heat. Five-day cricket hasn't seen such a dingdong head-to-head encounter in a long time, nor will it again soon.

The pugnacious Siddle, in the absence of the injured James Pattinson, refused to give up, and kept the competition alive until the nth point by removing Steyn and Kleinveldt in relatively quick succession. Ultimately, though, it was not to be. Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, meanwhile, was still kicking himself for dropping du Plessis on 96.

The heavens broke and rain started to fall 10 minutes after the conclusion of play on Monday, with South Africa's famous rearguard arguably written in the stars all along. Captain Graeme Smith still has not lost a Test in which he has scored a century.

With a small turnaround between matches two and three, the Proteas will consider this a solid psychological victory ahead of their trip to Perth. The Aussies, well, have to roll with the punches after a near taste of the number one ranking, only for it to be torn from their clasp.