Australia cracked the South African stonewall with 27 balls remaining to claim a dramatic 2-1 Test series win.
The Proteas showed in Cape Town why they’re the No.1 Test side in the world with an incredibly disciplined display of dour batting, but fell short of making it to stumps as Ryan Harris starred on day five of the third Test.
South Africa, never interested in chasing the historically impossible target of 511 runs set by Michael Clarke on day four, were bowled out for 265 at 5.48pm local time.
Harris, in desperate need for overdue knee surgery, was recalled for one final spell and needed three balls to wrap up the 245-run win.
The 34-year-old rattled the stumps of hamstrung Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to trigger jubilant celebrations from the tourists on Wednesday.
From nightwatchman Kyle Abbott’s 89-ball vigil to Vernon Philander’s 155 minutes at the crease that included a James Pattinson beamer that struck his fingers, South Africa did everything they could to avoid a first Test series loss in five years.
Du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Steyn and Philander offered much resistance on a day of high drama at Newlands, where a sparsely populated crowd clapped every dot ball like it was a century.
The visitors dismissed Philander with 15 overs left in the game, only for the decision to be successfully reviewed.
It meant Australia needed two wickets in the final act of a topsy-turvy series, and it had looked too big an ask until Harris grabbed the ball.
“That’s unbelievable,” said Harris, who also removed de Villiers in the second session.
“The first two Tests were disappointing for me, I should have been bowling like this.
“My body is done … that was bloody hard.”
Had the series finished squared at 1-1, third umpire Richard Illingworth’s verdict in the 124th over would have been one of the major talking points.
The ball scraped Philander’s glove, but after five minutes of studying the vision Illingworth judged there was no doubt the hand in question had left the bat.
Clarke was furious and the umpires stepped in during a heated discussion he had with Steyn, although the two made up shortly after.
Abbott added 94 minutes to his overnight vigil before departing in the first session, but it was all Australia could muster before lunch.
The second session was the decisive one, de Villiers falling in the fifth over after lunch and du Plessis departing in the fourth over before tea.
The pair had been the basis for the Proteas’ great escape at Adelaide Oval 2012, and against India in Johannesburg three months ago when they also survived for approximately four-and-a-half sessions.
Du Plessis was hounded by the Australians for his colourful remarks to the media two days ago, in which he questioned the opposition’s reverse-swing methods and likened them to “a pack of dogs” in the field.
Du Plessis was taunted about his own ball-tampering charge last year, barked at, and was eventually undone when he misread a dipping dipping ball from Steve Smith that thumped into his pad.
Du Plessis reviewed the lbw decision, but TV replays confirmed it to be plumb and his 109-ball resistance was over.
JP Duminy made it until 4.29pm, and it was Steyn’s 77-minute knock that had given the hosts genuine hope of reaching stumps.
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