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Australia fire after the rain as Pat Cummins leads charge towards win

Australia fire after the rain as Pat Cummins leads charge towards win

After a day and a half of waiting through rain and darkness, play finally resumed at the Sydney Cricket Ground. After three matches waiting due to injury, Josh Hazlewood resumed his Test career. On a damp surface, he came out breathing fire, starting a slide that had South Africa’s first innings six for 149 by stumps, still 326 behind Australia’s declaration score of 475 for four.

With play not starting until 1.45pm on the fourth day, Australia decided not to bat further, having last faced a ball on day two. That left Usman Khawaja on 195 not out, short of his first Test double century. With 157 overs left in the match, the Australians decided that chasing a win was the priority. Before play all was convivial, with the visitors presenting with the pink caps they had signed to raise funds for the McGrath Foundation. Once the action resumed, it was anything but.

Hazlewood’s initial efforts set the tone. His opening two overs were all but unplayable, sizzling the ball off the seam past the left-handed Dean Elgar, the South Africa captain yanking his head away from the line of the ball as it squared him up time and again. His dismissal seemed a matter of time, and in Hazlewood’s third over he duly edged one to Steve Smith at slip. But as he had done with Simon Harmer’s low catch in the first innings, the third umpire, Richard Kettleborough, ruled that Smith’s diving one-handed stunner had let the ball touch the turf after it had been grasped in his fingers, a letter-of-the-law ruling that was at least consistent.

Never mind. Hazlewood only needed 10 more balls at Elgar, coming around the wicket to pin him with a savage bouncer that he gloved to wicketkeeper Alex Carey for an overhead catch on 11. His opening partner Sarel Erwee made another start of 18 but fell to Nathan Lyon’s spin, into the attack by the eighth over and striking in the 18th. Another left-hander, Erwee left an off-break from around the wicket that did turn, but not quite enough to miss his off-stump. By then Pat Cummins was already back for a second spell, and had new inclusion Heinrich Klaasen gloving a ribcage ball to Carey for two.

Temba Bavuma and Khaya Zondo decided positivity was the way to respond, each hitting Lyon for a couple of sixes whenever the length was short enough to pull. They added 48 either side of the tea break before Bavuma feathered another excellent Hazlewood delivery that straightened on a line that tempted him to play. Zondo was foxed by Cummins’ pace and smarts, the right-armer coming around the wicket to the right-hander as if to bounce him, then rifling in a yorker that smashed him on the boot. Bavuma had made 35, Zondo 39: both needed to go on.

Nor was Cummins done. His third wicket came two overs later, his off-stump line and seam movement doing for Kyle Verreyne on 19, a hard-handed poke down the line resulting in an edge to Smith that no umpire could dispute. That made it 138 for six, and while Marco Jansen was roughed up by the Cummins short ball, he batted through six overs with Simon Harmer to stumps.

That leaves South Africa 126 runs short of avoiding the follow-on tomorrow, with four wickets in hand. If they reach it, Australia would either have to bat again or make a very bold declaration. If they fall short, Australia will certainly send them back in for another bat and aim to win by an innings. With play starting early, there should be 98 overs to take 14 wickets. That would be quite a feat for any bowling team, but avoiding it will still take some serious South African resistance.

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