Another day, another million-dollar Test match.
As it has all series, the action on day two in Cape Town rolled one way and then another, with neither Australia nor South Africa able to break to a decisive advantage.
“It’s been a very topsy-turvy game, hasn’t it?” smiled Australian opener Cameron Bancroft when speaking to ABC Grandstand after play.
“We’ve ridden the waves.”
South Africa started the day looking unlikely to add to a lacklustre 266, but galloped to 311. Australia got off to a flyer at 0 for 43, then collapsed to 6 for 156.
And when it looked like that innings was gone, Nathan Lyon was the unlikely saviour to drag it back the other way, and Australia got through to stumps with 245 on the board and the last-wicket partnership intact.
What could have been an imposing lead over 100 was reduced to a more modest 66, with the chance to whittle a few more runs off should Josh Hazlewood be able to stick around with Tim Paine on day three.
Amidst all that came Morne Morkel’s 300th Test wicket, a rare record for Dean Elgar, and more drama as Australia lodged a complaint with Cricket South Africa over targeted abuse from some spectators hanging around the players’ walkway.
It was fun while it lasted
A cracking first session had every kind of action.
South Africa had two wickets in hand, but given the way Elgar’s score had stood still the previous evening while teammates fell around him, one didn’t envisage he’d help add many more.
Instead, he allowed Kagiso Rabada plenty of attacking rein, and eventually joined in himself to smash boundaries from Pat Cummins on the cut and the pull, before lofting Josh Hazlewood back over the bowler’s head.
It was fun while it lasted — 45 runs added in quick time before Lyon eventually wrapped things up, adding a couple more left-handers to his prodigious tally from the last couple of years.
Steve Smith helped Rabada and Morkel to end the innings with five slip catches.
That left Elgar not out on 141, having carried his bat for the third time in his Test career. Only one other opener had managed that feat: the great West Indian Desmond Haynes.
There was plenty of time left in the session.
David Warner and Rabada have been the big names of this series — as much for off-field activity as their cricket.
When they came up against each other, fireworks were bound to follow.
For five balls in a row spanning two overs, Warner faced up to the world’s number one bowler and smashed him.
A bludgeon through cover with no movement of the feet, a more elegant cover drive, a minimalist clip through midwicket, then an outrageous lifted pull shot that sailed onto the shade cloth attached to the upper deck of the members’ pavilion, and a no-ball that was slashed behind point for four more.
The very next ball came a thud and a flurry of movement as Rabada detonated Warner’s off stump.
You can’t blame recklessness — Warner was trying to defend.
But doing so off the back foot rather than the front robbed him of control, and with his bat coming across at an angle, the ball flew through the gate to take the top off.
Replays of the cartwheeling timber were immediately posted online in extreme slow-motion, in all its majesty.
Warner’s 30 had come from 14 balls, and Australia’s 43 from 32.
Pickled idiot may have missed seeing his team get on top
From the same members’ stand where the six had landed emerged one portly and pickled idiot whose day was already taking a toll, and who decided the best response to some brilliant cricket was to follow Warner up the walkway to the rooms, yelling abuse.
With only a low fence separating the two areas, it was too close for comfort, and prompted coach Darren Lehmann’s angry response at the post-play media conference, as well as CA’s formal complaint.
Ground officials were quick to emphasise they’d immediately thrown the man out.
If so, he missed seeing his team get on top.
Usman Khawaja became yet another batsman to fall just before a break, top-edging a sloppy pull shot to give Morkel his 298th wicket.
Smith became 299 after lunch, when he needlessly followed a short wide ball with no real intent, tipping a practice catch to Elgar at gully.
Then Shaun Marsh raised the milestone with a horrible cross-batted swipe at a full and wide ball, after having looked in excellent touch for his 26.
It made Morkel the fifth South African to reach the milestone, after Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Allan Donald and Dale Steyn — a battery of quicks who gave so much to the game.
Bancroft had been battling through all this time, playing and missing, edging past his leg stump on several occasions, but also nailing the odd cover drive and cut shot on his way to a battling 50.
But an approaching interval did its trick again, this time the tea break falling as Bancroft fell, leg before for 77 in an eventual reward for a day’s fine bowling by Vernon Philander.
Rabada had Cummins and Mitchell Starc caught by AB de Villiers at third slip for 4 and 2.
It was now 8 for 175 — and real trouble loomed with Australia still 136 behind.
But Lyon had top-scored in Cape Town in 2011, to avoid the lowest ever Test total as Australia was rolled for 47.
This time, he looked a chance to top-score again, though eventually having to settle for making 47 all on his own.
His innings was the usual Lyon mix of audacious whacking, including some decent pull shots, uppercuts over gully, and clouts over cover.
One of these brought him undone as he searched for his first Test 50, giving Morkel a fourth wicket for the innings, but Lyon had still notched a new highest score.
More importantly, with Paine playing sentinel at the other end, he’d dragged the deficit down to something manageable.
Australia is still in this match, but with day three known by locals as the best batting day on Newlands pitches, there is plenty of hard work yet to be done.