Bad light stopped them one wicket from victory, but Australia will win the Test on the fifth day at Kingsmead. However, South Africa found a new hero as Aiden Markram created genuine hope from what had seemed a hopeless cause. Set 417 to win, which would have been the second-highest successful chase in Test history, South Africa first collapsed to 49 for 4, and a quick finish seemed all but assured. Instead, Markram fought, counter-attacked, and together with Quinton de Kock took South Africa to within 134 of their target with five wickets in hand. And then it all fell apart.
Mitchell Marsh, who had not taken a Test wicket since November 2016, made the breakthrough when Markram tried to glide him past Tim Paine, only to have his thin edge brilliantly snapped up by the wicketkeeper. Thus ended a 147-run partnership between Markram and de Kock, and Australia sensed the chance to run through the tail. Mitchell Starc did just that. He had Vernon Philander caught behind, before his pace and accuracy rattled the stumps of Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada for ducks from consecutive deliveries.
But Starc was denied the chance to push for his hat-trick, for the Rabada wicket came from the final ball of an over, and in the meantime the light had deteriorated such that the umpires would only keep the players on the field if Australia bowled spin from both ends. Nathan Lyon and Steven Smith bowled in tandem for nine overs but could not find the final wicket Australia needed, and when the umpires finally decided the light was insufficient even for spin bowling, South Africa were 293 for 9, with de Kock on 81, Morne Morkel yet to score, and their nominal target still 124 runs away. For Australia, it was a shame the result could not be finalised before stumps.
For South Africa, it was a shame that all the hard work put in by Markram and de Kock would come to nothing. And for the coffers of Cricket South Africa, it was a shame they would have to fork out to open the stadium on the fifth day for what could be as little as one ball. Perhaps only one man will be truly happy to come back – Starc, who at length will get the opportunity to bowl for his hat-trick.
The morning had started with Australia on 213 for 9 and the last pair, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, added 14 before Cummins chopped on to give Maharaj his ninth wicket of the match. The target of 417 was thus confirmed, just one run short of the all-time highest successful chase in Test history, the 418 achieved by West Indies against Australia in Antigua in 2003. More relevant to South Africa, given that AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla played key roles in it, was the 414 South Africa had chased down to beat Australia in Perth in 2008.—AFP