Recent Match Report – Australia vs South Africa 3rd Test 2022/23

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Lunch South Africa 244/7 (Maharaj 49*, Harmer 45*, Cummins 3-53, Hazlewood 2-45) Traill Australia 475 for 231 on December 4

Simon Harmer and Keshav Maharaj combined for an excellent partnership as South Africa struggled late on day five to push Australia to an improbable third Test victory at the sunny SCG.

At lunch, South Africa needed 32 runs to avoid the follow-on target, with half-centuries from Maharaj and Harmer, their unbroken 72-run partnership for the eighth wicket. With at least 58 overs to go, a draw looks increasingly likely, although there is little chance of rain in Sydney for the rest of the day.

Amid blue skies and warm conditions, the pitch played well and did not deteriorate as expected after inconsistent bounce from Australia’s Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood at the end of the fourth day.

Part-time spinner Travis Head was the most dangerous bowler in the first session on day five, getting his only wicket when he removed Marco Jansen for 11 off 78 balls.

But Australia were largely disappointed in their bid for a series sweep to make it to the World Test Championship final in June.

Given their batting weaknesses, South Africa faced an uphill battle against a formidable Australia attack. They had not drawn a single Test in their last 43 matches since 2017.

Cummins and Hazlewood bowled brilliantly late on day four in bad light as South Africa made a precarious start at 149 for 6.

But Johnson and Harmer batted cautiously to challenge Cummins and spinner Nathan Lyon. Hammer scored his first run of the day off his 20th ball and soon after pulled Cummins impressively to the boundary.

Johnson did not score until the 32nd ball he faced for the day, underlining his determination to play a rearguard role. He occasionally huffed and puffed at Lyon, including a close shave when an inside edge fell through Steven Smith’s pads short in the slips.

Lyon, who has a modest record at the SCG, started from the get go and targeted the footmark outside off stump. He initially struggled with his accuracy before finding his radar but could not find success.

Just before the second new ball, Cummins turned to Head, who justified the belief by having Johnson caught outside off with a delivery that fell short.

Head continued to probe but missed chances including a sharp return catch to the relief of Maharaj.

Cummins didn’t hesitate to take the second new ball and Hazlewood immediately took a bad bounce like the previous evening.

But even as runs flowed in South Africa’s desperate attempt to pass the follow-on target, Maharaj countered with several belligerent pull shots to the boundary off Cummins.

After being rarely used in his first Test since 2017, spinner Ashton Agar came into the attack with an hour to go in the day’s play. But he failed to intimidate Australia’s frontline spinners mostly with the head.

Showing grit and defiance of late, South Africa look set to end a crippling series defeat on a positive note.

Tristan Lovelett is a journalist based in Perth

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