An expected and keenly awaited return to form from Hashim Amla has almost certainly forced Australia into a battle for survival over the last two days of the second Test in Port Elizabeth.
Amla's sparkling 93 not out allowed the Proteas, who secured a first-innings lead of 177, to comfortably overcome the early loss of both of its openers in its second innings to extend its lead at St George's Park to 369 after day three.
The home team is scheduled to resume on day four at 4-192 after 47 overs, with debutant Quinton de Kock on nine alongside Amla, who batted with a dislocated finger caused by a catch he dropped earlier in the day.
South Africa's dominant position in the match, which it needs to win to stay in contention for its first home series win over Australia since its readmission in 1992, is undermined by a weather forecast that could prompt home captain Graeme Smith to declare earlier than he would otherwise choose to. Day five of the match on Monday is scheduled to have an 80 per cent chance of rain, to a predicted total of 15 millimetres.
The Proteas will almost certainly be unable to call on Wayne Parnell during their second bowling innings, with the left-arm paceman suffering a minor groin injury that they hope will heal in time for next week's third Test in Cape Town.
Australia's bowlers have been made to toil throughout the match, having already been in the field for a total of 198.5 overs in the first three days. Only thrice in the past three years has Australia spent longer in the field: 214.2 overs during the third winter Ashes Test at Lord's, 228.5 overs against Sri Lanka in Hobart in December 2012 and 272.3 overs against the Proteas in Adelaide in November 2012. For the latter, Australia replaced its entire bowling attack for the following Test.
Amla's inability to reach 40 in his preceding seven innings was made to look like an anomaly as he produced 12 boundaries in his 126-ball innings. The highlight of the day was the 55-run partnership he an A.B. de Villiers (29) shared for South Africa's fourth wicket.
The right-hander's only life came late in the day when he was on 83. He gloved a leg-side delivery from Mitch Johnson that Haddin, diving to his left, was unable to hold on to.
Australia's only wicket-takers for the innings were Johnson (2-48) and Peter Siddle (2-53). Its big to restrict the Proteas was hampered with the ease with which their batsmen handled Ryan Harris (0-53). The typically dependable paceman conceded 10 boundaries across his 10 overs on day three, with captain Clarke taking him off after two overs in each of his last three spells.
The Proteas should have been in an even stronger position at the end of day three. They undermined their own cause to regain parity in the series with some more shambolic fielding to start the day. Even though they dismissed Australia for 246 within 46 overs, less than a third of the duration of its own first innings, shortly after lunch on day three a sub-200 score had loomed as a distinct possibility.
Haddin and Steve Smith were given lives before Australia reached 260 - Haddin on one to a sharp chance to Amla at gully, Smith on 24 to a horrible spill by substitute Robin Peterson at square-leg. Those two misses took South Africa's tally for the series to nine missed catches and three run-outs. The most recent of the latter came in the first session when Steyn nearly produced a direct-hit from fine-leg that would have removed Haddin for eight..
The day-three blunders cost the home team only 33 runs. Haddin was bowled for nine, by an unplayable Dale Steyn delivery that moved into him sharply, and Smith was claimed for 49 just after lunch by the excellent Morne Morkel (3-63).
The day began with David Warner adding only five runs to his overnight score to depart for 70. The remarkable unbeaten streak of his partner, nightwatchman Nathan Lyon, ended after 194 days and 160 balls as he chopped onto his stumps for 15 after backing away from another menacing Morkel short-pitched delivery. It left Lyon having to share the Test record for consecutive not-out innings - eight - with New Zealand's Ewen Chatfield and the West Indies' Alf Valentine.
The lower-order hitting of Johnson (27 off 23) and Harris (26 off 26) helped Australia curb its still-hefty deficit.
The wretched start to the tour for South Africa captain Graeme Smith continued when he fell to Johnson for the third time in for innings, chopping onto his stumps for 14. It meant the left-hander had failed to survive the new ball in all four innings so far, scoring 37 runs at an average of 9.25.
Stock-bowler Siddle then had Dean Elgar caught behind late in the second session for 16. The newly recalled opener edged behind after driving inside the line to right-armer Siddle, who had attacked him around the wicket.
Johnson posed more of a threat with the short-pitched ball in an opening four-over spell than he arguably did across his 25 overs in the first innings at St George's Park, which would have given encouragement to his captain Michael Clarke. He was also noticeably more animated than in the first innings, eagerly seeking to engage the batsmen in verbal sparring. Beyond that, however, he was not able to replicate the threat posed by Morkel earlier in the day, despite claiming the prized scalp of de Villiers.
South Africa (1st Innings) 423
Australia (1st Innings - overnight 4-112)
C ROGERS lbw b Philander 5
D WARNER c Smith b Philander 70
A DOOLAN c de Villiers b Parnell 8
S MARSH c de Villiers b Parnell 0
M CLARKE c Elgar b Philander 19
N LYON b Morkel 15
S SMITH c de Villiers b Morkel 49
B HADDIN b Steyn 9
M JOHNSON b Duminy 27
R HARRIS c du Plessis b Morkel 26
P SIDDLE not out 11
Sundries (4lb, 2w, 1nb) 7
Fall of wickets: 7 (Rogers), 41 (Doolan), 41 (Marsh), 81 (Clarke), 120 (Warner), 128 (Lyon), 168 (Haddin), 205 (Johnson), 209 (Smith), 246 (Harris)
Bowling: D Steyn 13-3-55-1, V Philander 13-0-68-3, M Morkel 17-0-63-3 (1w/2 1nb), W Parnell 8.3-2-31-2, D Elgar 0.3-0-1-0, J Duminy 5-0-24-1.
South Africa (2nd Innings)
G SMITH b Johnson 14
D ELGAR c Haddin b Siddle 16
H AMLA not out 93
F du PLESSIS c Haddin b Siddle 24
AB de VILLIERS c Haddin b Johnson 29
Q de KOCK not out 9
Sundries (2b, 5lb) 7
Total (4 wkts - close) 192
Fall of wickets: 20 (Smith), 42 (Elgar), 112 (du Plessis), 167 (de Villiers)
Bowling: M Johnson 12-0-48-2, R Harris 10-1-53-0, N Lyon 12-2-31-0, P Siddle 13-2-53-2.
The story Amla puts South Africa in charge as Australia battles for survival first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.