Mitchell Starc swept away the South African tail with lethal reverse swing for the second time in the match before being denied a potential hat-trick and a 10-wicket haul by bad light in an eventful fourth evening of the opening Test match between the Proteas and Australia at Kingsmead on Sunday.
Starc took three wickets in five balls to finish his 16th over to leave the Proteas 9 wickets down and still well over a hundred runs away from their victory target of 417 but the umpires then ruled that the light was too bad for the quicks to continue with the result that Nathan Lyon and Steve Smith had to bowl out the rest of the day.
The Proteas finished the day on 293/9 with Quinton de Kock unbeaten on 81 (138 balls, 11 fours) in a welcome return to form and Morne Morkel having stoically blocked his way through 27 deliveries.
The teams will now come back for a fifth day with Australia needing one wicket for victory and the Proteas 124 runs.
The Proteas will be left to rue their poor batting performance in the first innings that saw them trail by 189 runs.
They nevertheless restored their pride with a fighting second innings performance that seemed unlikely when they crashed to 49/4 inside the first hour with Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis joining Dean Elgar back in the pavilion.
Most of the rest of the day was dominated by South Africa’s future batting generation as 23-year-old Aiden Markram established himself as a special player on the global stage with an innings of 143 (218 balls, 19 fours) that equalled his career best score against Bangladesh earlier in the season.
It was his third Test century and, like Jacques Kallis, he scored his first century against Australia in the seventh Test match of his career.
In the process he broke a worrying Proteas batting drought that saw them fail to score a century in the previous major series against India and only one against England last year.
His support came from two 25-year-olds, Theunis de Bruyn and De Kock, who shared respective partnerships of 87 for the fifth wicket and 147 for the sixth.
With another young batsman, Temba Bavuma, sitting out this match through injury the Proteas selectors know that the future looks secure when the current golden generation retires.
Probably the most remarkable statistic of the fourth day was Nathan Lyon’s failure to take a wicket although it didn’t matter as Starc and his seam bowling comrades did the job.
By comparison, Keshav Maharaj took the last remaining Australian second innings wicket to finish with career best figures of 9/225 in 63.2 overs.
At least the Proteas have shown that they are now ready to compete with Australia and the fact that this is a four Test series means that they will have plenty of opportunity to get back into the series.