Duminy ton puts South Africa in command

Australia

Australia's hot streak of six thumping Test wins on the trot might is under threat at St George's Park where the visitors find themselves behind the eight ball on 112 for four, some 311 runs behind South Africa's first innings score of 423 all out.

Australia's hot streak of six thumping Test wins on the trot might is under threat at St George's Park where the visitors find themselves behind the eight ball on 112 for four, some 311 runs behind South Africa's first innings score of 423 all out.

South Africa started the day 214/5 after a very even first day but AB de Villiers (116) and JP Duminy (123) made excellent and timeous hundreds as the pair added 149 for the sixth wicket before Australia were reminded what it is like to spend five sessions in the field. The Proteas batted cautiously on a seriously slow pitch but were handsomely rewarded for their efforts as they tired the opposition and then made a mess of their top order after tea.

Vernon Philander started the party when he trapped Chris Rogers (5) LBW and Wayne Parnell joined the action when he kissed the edge of Alex Doolan (8) and then Shaun Marsh's (0) bats with his first and third Test deliveries in over two years. Parnell's comeback showed the touring team that the hosts also had a lethal left-arm quick up their sleeve, after Mitchell Johnson took only 1/70 and was made to look innocuous on a slow deck. Philander claimed a second prized scalp when he had Michael Clarke push one straight to Dean Elgar at short cover. Australia were 81/4 and in an unfamiliar mess and the band played with a volume and tempo previously not heard during this match.

Shortly before stumps nightwatchman Nathan Lyon (12*), who earlier toiled hard with the ball to take 5/130 in 46 overs, was given not out by umpire Dharmasena but replays showed that South Africa were right to appeal so enthusiastically as he middled the ball down the leg side to 'keeper AB de Villiers. He appeared a man living on borrowed time as he was then dropped by JP Duminy at gully the next over.

Duminy's century was his first in fourteen Test innings and could not have come at a more opportune moment for a man who many expected to be dropped for this Test. The fact that he is just about his side's only spin-bowling option probably saved his place in the team after Robin Peterson was replaced with an extra batsman (Quinton de Kock). Duminy's career was made by scoring an unlikely hundred against Australia in Melbourne in 2008 and it is all but guaranteed to not end any time soon after this spirited Port Elizabeth knock.

De Villiers' ton was his 19th and showed why he is putting clear water between himself and his contenders at the top of the world batting rankings. Keeping wicket certainly hasn't had any negative affect on the batting form of the player who has made at least one 50 in each of his last 12 tests – beating the record of 11 that was held jointly by Viv Richards, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.

David Warner cut the figure of a young man in a hurry as he raced to a run-a-ball 65 not out as wickets tumbled around him in the gloaming. If Australia are happy to play for a draw in the second episode of this three-match series in order to take an unassailable one nil lead to Newlands, then they have not given that memo to the jaunty Mr Warner.

Talk around the ground was that the pitch is flatter and more easy-paced than any Ste George's wicket anyone could care to remember and the fact that hardly any sun has shone on it over the first two days has meant that it appears void of cracks. But nonetheless it is dry and has not been watered since Tuesday and wickets here have a long history of being conducive to low second-innings tallies. The bounce will become increasingly variable and scoring increasingly difficult.

South Africa will be eyeing a valuable lead – their strategy of batting so carefully in what is effectively a must-win game looked unnecessarily risk-averse but it could well pay off handsomely. Although some rain is forecast on day five, the hosts will be confident that they can arrive at a sold out Newlands with the series level on March the 1st.

<b>Nick Sadleir at St George's Park</b>

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