PERTH — Australia will have to produce the greatest run chase in Test history to beat South Africa in the third Test at the Western Australian Cricket Association Ground in Perth and claim the top spot in the Test rankings.
Set 632 to win after South Africa were finally dismissed for 569 in their second innings on Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers’s centuries, Australia were 40 without loss at stumps on the third day on Sunday.
The Australians needed a further 592 runs to win at the start of play on Monday with two days to play.
David Warner resumed on Monday on 29 with Ed Cowan not out on nine.
It was only the second time in Test history that Australia had been set more than 600 runs to win. On the previous occasion, a Test against England in 1928, they folded for 66 all out, chasing 742 runs.
However, De Villiers said the South Africans were not taking victory for granted, having chased down 414 for the loss of just four wickets at the same venue in 2008.
"We are aware that if they go the full length of the Test match, they will come quite close. They won’t be giving it away … we are not arrogant in any way whatsoever," he said. "We have a lot of hard work ahead."
Australia coach Mickey Arthur, who was at the helm of the South African team in that 2008 run chase, said the home team believed they could create history.
"We bat for two days, we win. All we can do now is bat session for session and we have got to believe we can do it or there is no point rocking up … The wicket is good and it gets better here, it is not going to crack up and there is no uneven bounce.
"A couple of big partnerships and you never know what might happen," said Arthur.
Tall fast bowler Morne Morkel threw a major scare into the South African camp when he appeared to roll his left ankle in his delivery stride late in the day. Morkel was flat on the pitch for several minutes, but just when it seemed the Proteas may be down to two fast bowlers, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, the big man picked himself up and finished his over without apparent discomfort.
Amla led the way for the Proteas with the bat and looked certain to notch a third Test double century, but on 196 he fell to a superb reflex caught-and-bowled from Mitchell Johnson (110/4).
He had a lucky escape on 108 when Mike Hussey dropped a tough chance in gully off Johnson, but he was in total command for most of his innings, his dismissal ending a 149-run partnership with D e Villiers for the fourth wicket.
It was Amla’s 18th Test century and he faced 221 balls, hitting 21 boundaries. After resuming at 99 not out on the third day, Amla took just three balls to reach triple figures, having faced a mere 87 balls.
At one stage, retiring Australian batsman Ricky Ponting was given a bowl as Amla and De Villiers took the game away from the Australians.
De Villiers reached his 14th Test century in memorable fashion just before tea, reverse-sweeping spinner Nathan Lyon for three successive boundaries to reach the milestone.
He eventually fell for 169 as he appeared to tire, caught behind from the bowling of Mitchell Starc, having faced 184 balls, hitting 21 fours and three sixes.