Australia 8/267 (dec), South Africa 4/77
Australia started day 4 273 runs ahead of the Proteas with 5 wickets in hand, and with our two most in-form batsmen Clarke and Hussey at the crease. Anything over 350 is always hard to get in a 4th innings run chase, but Australia may need more as James Pattinson won’t bowl again in the match due to a side strain, and there is no all-rounder in the team. Clarke, resuming on 9, once again looks impossible to dismiss until a Steyn delivery keeps low and the skipper is out for 38. After playing well for three days the pitch is becoming variable, something the Aussies will be very happy with. Unlike his fellow elder statesman Ponting, Mike Hussey is in superb form, reaching another half century to go with his two tons of the series. Crisp drives to go with pull shots off anything slightly short of a length. Like Clarke being dismissed, it’s somewhat of a surprise when Mr Cricket holes out off the bowling of the consistent Morkel. Wade scratches around for 18 off 50 balls, followed by Pattinson and Hilfenhaus hitting the ball hard and well in a 47 run 9th wicket partnership before Clarkes declaration which sets South Africa a victory target of 430. Morkel, Steyn and Kleinveldt take all 8 wickets between them, Imran Tahir’s dirty match gets dirtier, he has match figures now of 0/260 off 37 overs.
Ben Hilfenhaus gets Smith caught in slip by Ponting in the first over. While his pace is still slightly down from last summer, his arm is higher on release than it was at the Gabba and he has looked much more dangerous in this match. Despite his brilliant last 12 months his place was in doubt coming into this match. One ordinary Test and your place is on the line, I’m sure there’s a few batsmen in the team who are glad that criteria doesn’t apply to them. Nathan Lyon got the crucial wicket of Amla via a sharp chance at slip taken by Clarke, and then claimed the wicket of Rudolph with Cowan taking the catch at short leg. Lyon has 2/15 off 15 overs and is doing a bit with the ball. While he will never run through teams like Warne or Murali, Lyon bowls tightly, flights the ball well and gets good batsmen out. An excellent foil for our strong squad of fast bowlers. Birthday boy Peter Siddle got through the defence of opener Peterson, who has looked dangerous all series without making a huge score. His dismissal left the tourists struggling at 4/45. Without an abundance of bowling options Clarke threw the ball to part timers Warner, Quiney and Ponting as well as bowling 5 overs himself. While the bulk of the work and wickets on Day 5 will need to come from the three specialist bowlers remaining, the part time quintet will have a role to play. Especially the skipper, whose left arm orthodox deliveries are well suited to a pitch becoming more variable in bounce.
The Proteas will resume on Day 5 on 4/77, still needing 353 with De Villiers and Du Plessis at the crease and a hamstrung Jacques Kallis the only recognised batsmen left. Australia should wrap up the game comfortably, but should take nothing for granted against the fighting qualities of the Proteas. This has been a high quality, absorbing match that reinforces why Test cricket is the premium form of the game. Let’s hope for another entertaining day and an Aussie 1-0 series lead going into Perth.