Australia cling on with narrow lead

Session times: 7pm – 9pm | 9.40pm – 11.40pm | 12am – 2am (all times AEDT)

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A fighting half-century from Usman Khawaja and patient support from Mitch Marsh has helped Australia erase South Africa’s first-innings lead on an absorbing third day in Port Elizabeth. 

Australia lost three wickets in the middle session and Shaun Marsh straight after tea to compound a difficult morning in which AB de Villiers’ brilliant hundred took the hosts’ lead to a daunting 139. 

The tourists went to tea at 3-86, still trailing by 53 and with David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and skipper Steve Smith all back in the pavilion.

Moments after the break, matters became more dire still, when Shaun Marsh edged a Kagiso Rabada delivery that seamed away to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock to depart for one. 

But Khawaja battled through a difficult period to play a vital hand, excelling against the left-arm orthodox spin of Keshav Maharaj particularly, while Marsh curbed his aggressive instincts to stick with the No.3 as the tourists battled to stay in the Test. 

A short time ago, Khawaja was not out 57, with Mitch Marsh 18 and Australia 4-135, trailing by four runs. 

The rot began when Warner was bowled for 13 by a beautiful delivery from Rabada, who again offered an Australian batsman some choice words before he’d had the chance to depart. 

Rabada goes again with Warner send-off

Bancroft faced 70 balls for his 24 before playing on to Lungi Ngidi, the ball coming off bat, pad, and trickling onto the stumps as the West Australian cursed his misfortune.

Maharaj then picked up the crucial wicket of Smith, who didn’t even wait for the umpire’s finger after edging the left-arm spinner through to de Kock. 

Earlier, the tourists endured a frustrating opening session as de Villiers took control with a sparkling unbeaten 126 from just 146 deliveries, and the Proteas superstar found strong support in a tail that helped add 119 before the final wicket fell with the total at 382. 

Resuming at 7-263, South Africa’s lead grew quickly as de Villiers teamed up with firstly Vernon Philander, who pushed his scoring rate along in concert with his more experienced partner. 

Pat Cummins was again the man to make the breakthrough, when he tightened Philander (36) for room and the right-hander flicked a sharp chance to Cameron Bancroft at short leg.

De Villiers brought up a superb hundred with a stunning upper-cut for four off Cummins, the touch of class representing a neat thumbnail sketch of the innings as a whole, and leaving little doubt that South Africa’s most dangerous batsman has put the challenges of his past few years behind him. 

He then pulled Cummins for a breathtaking six over midwicket, as Australia focused their attentions on instead removing the tail. 

That plan back-fired at first when Keshav Maharaj hit a dashing 30 from 24 deliveries, including two sixes and a run of three straight fours from Mitchell Starc. 

De Villiers initially farmed the strike, including a couple of well-run twos, then backed Maharaj to hold his own.

Maharaj went within a whisker of falling to Nathan Lyon when he was on three and the Proteas were 8-323, with Usman Khawaja holding a juggled jumping catch on the rope.

Replays showed Khawaja’s foot was momentarily on the turf behind the rope, denying Nathan Lyon his second wicket of the innings.

David Warner was also responsible for a reprieve at 9-373, failing to dislodge the bails cleanly at the bowler’s end when Lungi Ngidi was short of his ground.

Maharaj was eventually knocked over by Josh Hazlewood, and when Ngidi was run-out by a direct hit from captain Steve Smith, Australia were staring down the barrel of a sizeable deficit. 

Bancroft looks ahead to pivotal day three in PE

Australia XI: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood

South Africa XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (c), Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi

Qantas tour of South Africa

South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.

Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights

First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard

Second Test St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13. Live coverage

Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26. Live coverage

Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage

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