Ricky Ponting farewelled Adelaide Oval for perhaps the last time in his stellar career as South Africa fought hard to get back into the second Test.
Ponting was one of five wickets to fall, chopping onto his stumps as he played late with an angled defensive stroke to Dale Steyn, as Australia finished the third day 273 runs ahead at 5-111.
The Adelaide Oval pitch is providing an ideal contest between bat and ball – it is playing well enough for the batsmen to relish the opportunity to add plenty more runs but there is enough variable bounce and unusual movement to give hope to the bowlers.
But Ponting could not blame the surface for his demise in what could be his last innings at the ground where he has flourished like no other.
He wants to go on to next year’s Ashes campaign but needs to find runs in a hurry to survive the summer.
The champion batsman fell for 16 after Rory Kleinveldt struck three times in quick succession to ruin Australia’s top order following a bright start.
Michael Clarke survived to nine but looked nothing like the batsman who had scored successive double centuries to start the series as Morne Morkel threatened him repeatedly.
Clarke was joined late by Mike Hussey after Morkel despatched nightwatchman Peter Siddle.
Starting their innings 162 ahead of South Africa, openers David Warner and Ed Cowan put on 77 before Kleinveldt changed the match with 3-3 in four overs.
Warner bunted a simple catch to cover as he attempted to turn the ball on the legside, Rob Quiney fell for his second duck in the game when he edged behind and Cowan was bowled hitting across the line.
Quiney’s pair means that he has only a remote chance of surviving to the third Test with Shane Watson likely to be fit.
Expensive legspinner Imran Tahir received his customary thrashing but denied himself his first wicket in the match when replays showed he overstepped the popping crease when he had Cowan pop a catch to short cover.
Tahir was hit for 38 in seven overs and it appeared peculiar that Graeme Smith kept him on when Ponting and Clarke first came to the middle.
Bowling with genuine pace for the first time in the series, Steyn took just eight deliveries to claim Ponting when he was finally introduced.
Ponting now has just 20 runs in his three innings in the series and his average against South Africa has dropped below 50 for the first time in nearly 11 years.
Debutant Faf deu Plessis led South Africa’s fightback.
Du Plessis was the last man out for a spirited 78 as the Proteas were dismissed for 388, still 162 behind Australia’s first innings total.
The first-gamer was inspired by veteran Jacques Kallis who ignored the pain of a torn hamstring to contribute a fighting 58 that helped South Africa avoid the follow on.
Australia were unlikely to enforce the follow-on, particularly with paceman James Pattinson out of action with a suspected intercostal muscle tear, but will now attempt to set up a fourth-day declaration.
Five team-mates came and went as de Plessis looked a complete Test batsman with sparkling shots on both sides of the ground and a competent defence that was not breached until he struck out in the company of last man Imran Tahir.
He was part of a 97-run stand for the eighth wicket before Kallis fell to a combination of Clarke’s Midas touch and the replay technology.
Kallis attempted to sweep Clarke only for the ball to lob off his pad and gloves to wicket-keeper Matthew Wade.
Umpire Brent Bowden gave Kallis not out but the replay showed the ball changing direction after thumping into his glove.
But Australia was counting the cost. A side injury to pace spearhead James Pattinson is likely to prevent him bowling again in the match.
If scans this afternoon show that Pattinson has torn an intercostal muscle, he is unlikely to be fit to play for the rest of the Test summer.
The loss of captain Graeme Smith in the eighth over of the day sapped South Africa’s morale and prompted a series of wickets.
For the second time in the innings, Smith reviewed the decision to give him out caught behind but a tiny speck of infrared on Hotspot was enough to see him leave on 122.
The energetic Siddle was the successful bowler and he quickly followed by having AB de Villiers LBW for one.
Bowling with incisive loop, Nathan Lyon claimed Jacques Rudolph for the third time in the series when the left-hander chipped a low catch to short cover.The injury to Pattinson improves the chance of Ben Hilfenhaus playing the third Test and he had his own success when he used the second new ball to force an edge to slip from Dale Steyn and followed it by bowling Rory Kleinveldt.
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