South Africa 255 and 106 for 2 (Erwee 42*, Bavuma 17*, Hazlewood 1-9) drew with Australia 475 for 4 declared
South Africa defied Australia’s bold push for an improbable victory, and series sweep, as the third Test ended in a draw at the SCG.
After following on, South Africa were 106 for 2 in their second innings when play ended five overs before the close. The surface played slowly and did not deteriorate as expected with South Africa mustering belated fight to end a disappointing series on a better note.
Australia would have booked a spot in the World Test Championship final in June with victory, but one drawn match in the upcoming four-Test series in India will prove enough.
Given their batting frailties, South Africa will be relieved to have escaped with a draw – their first such result since 2017.
South Africa were nervous after skipper Dean Elgar fell before tea when he gloved a short Pat Cummins delivery to be caught behind. An under-pressure Elgar’s wretched series ended with just 56 runs at an average of 9.33 marked by struggles against short leg-side deliveries.
After tea, spinner Nathan Lyon was left frustrated after a review on an lbw decision on Heinrich Klaasen went against him. The not-out decision was upheld even though replays showed the ball hitting middle stump.
His mood soured further three balls later when Klaasen, playing his first Test match since 2019, stood his ground after edging a delivery to Steven Smith, who claimed a low catch at slip.
But replays cast doubt over whether the ball touched the grass when it went into Smith’s fingers and it was enough for third umpire Richard Kettleborough to give not out.
Klaasen’s luck ran out when he was clean bowled by a cracking reverse swinging delivery from Josh Hazlewood to provide a glimmer of hope for Australia with 20 overs remaining.
South Africa were 82 for 2 with 15 overs left but Australia’s push continued with Cummins giving himself one last burst without reward.
Cummins had also tried part-time spinners Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head, who claimed the only wicket in the morning session, but to no avail.
Left-arm spinner Ashton Agar, who was wicketless in 14 overs in the first innings, was surprisingly backed to share the new ball alongside Hazlewood.
In his first Test match since 2017, Agar again struggled with his accuracy in what has been a tough return in an audition ahead of Australia’s tour of India. He finished wicketless from 22 overs in the match.
South Africa started the day precariously placed at 149 for 6 after Cummins and Hazlewood bowled superbly late on day four in fading light.
But Harmer and Marco Jansen batted cautiously to thwart Australia’s attack. Jansen played a rearguard until being dislodged caught behind by Head with a delivery outside off stump that stayed low.
But an 85-run partnership between Harmer and Keshav Maharaj pushed South Africa close to the follow-on target and likely safety from a series whitewash.
Maharaj reached his half-century on the first ball after lunch before falling to Hazlewood with South Africa 24 runs short of avoiding following on.
Having been preferred over Scott Boland, Hazlewood repaid the faith of the selectors on his return with four wickets after suffering a side strain against West Indies in the opening Test of the home season.
Maharaj’s dismissal triggered an all too-familiar rush of wickets for South Africa to set up an intriguing finish although it proved an anti-climax.
Australia ran out of time in a truncated match, where four straight sessions across days three and four were washed out. Forty-nine overs were also lost to rain and bad light on the opening two days to continue a run of rain-affected matches at the traditional SCG New Year’s Test.
But Australia thoroughly dominated South Africa throughout a one-sided series to complete an unbeaten home Test season after earlier thrashings over West Indies in Perth and Adelaide.
Australia’s massive first innings was built on an unbeaten 195 from opener Usman Khawaja and 104 from Smith, who passed Don Bradman with his 30th Test century.
Having won three straight Test series in Australia, South Africa were a shadow with their batting unable to muster much of a challenge.
Apart from fiery quick Anrich Nortje, their attack also underwhelmed with spearhead Kagiso Rabada taking just three wickets at 87.66 in the last two matches after an eight-wicket haul on the bowler-friendly Gabba surface. South Africa’s disastrous series also ended their chances of qualifying for the WTC final.
DAY FOUR: On Saturday, Australia reduced South Africa to 149-6 at the close of play on the fourth day of the rain-disrupted third Test after declaring on 475-4 in pursuit of a victory that would give them a 3-0 series sweep.
The poor weather that had washed out the best part of two days of the match finally relented at lunch and Australia immediately declared to allow the bowlers as much time as possible to dismiss the tourists twice.
Skipper Pat Cummins (3-29) and Josh Hazlewood (2-19) rose to the task with some ferocious pace bowling as the hosts broke South African resistance every time a partnership looked like developing. Marco Jansen, who had made 10 not out, and Simon Harmer, unbeaten on six, will resume on Sunday as South Africa — still 126 runs short of avoiding the follow-on — look to bat out the final day to force a draw.
“I’m pretty excited about tomorrow,” said spinner Nathan Lyon. “It’s going to be an exciting day’s cricket, we know what we have to do. We’ve just got to stick to our basics, that’s what we’ve done over the last 10 years or so […] thrilling day tomorrow, do the basics well and see how we go.”
Hazlewood said Australia were confident of being able to take 14 wickets to claim the victory and said it would be a big day for spin bowlers Lyon and Ashton Agar.
“The follow-on is 275, so hopefully we can keep them under that and then go again,” he said. “Reverse swing is in play, with a little bit of variable bounce, the short ball is difficult to play because of how slow it is coming off the wicket.
“I think Ash (Agar) and Gazza (Lyon), it’s a big day tomorrow for them with the ball spinning with lefties and righties for them both to work with, there will be plenty happening tomorrow.”
Cummins’ decision to declare had left the unfortunate Usman Khawaja stranded five runs short of his maiden Test double century, on 195 not out.
Khawaja’s tally was 164 more runs than Dean Elgar had managed in four innings in the series so far and the South Africa captain continued his poor run of form by gloving a short Hazlewood delivery behind for 15.
South Africa survived the remainder of the early pace offensive but Sarel Erwee followed his opening partner back to the dressing room for 18 when he left a Lyon delivery that clipped the side of his off stump.
Heinrich Klaasen departed for two in the next over, also gloving behind, to give Cummins his first wicket but the tourists held on to reach the tea break at 71 for three.
Temba Bavuma edged a Hazlewood delivery behind to depart for 35 to break up his promising stand with Khaya Zondo, who had made 39 when he was trapped lbw by a Cummins yorker in a decision confirmed by DRS.
Kyle Verreynne, South Africa’s best performer with the bat over a miserable series for the tourists, departed for 19 in a late pace barrage, Cummins inducing a stab at the ball which Steve Smith snaffled up in the slips.
“Oohs” and “aahs” echoed around the Sydney Cricket Ground in the evening gloom as Cummins and Hazlewood sought to make further inroads into the South African batting order but Jansen and Harmer held firm.
“We’ve got a day to bat,” said Zondo. “We’ve done it before and we can do it again. “It’s not been the greatest of tours but the guys are still in good spirits.”
The weather forecast is for improving conditions and Australia have potentially 98 more overs on Sunday’s final day to finish off the South Africans.