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Nail-biter ends in draw

Led by Faf Du Plessis, South Africa survives a dramatic final day of the second Test in Adelaide on Monday.

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Starting with one of the fastest-scoring days in Test history and ending with one of the slowest, this match had everything except a winner.

Or maybe not. South Africa's survival will certainly feel like a win as they go into Friday's decider, while Australia's failure to dismiss them in 148 overs - more pointedly, the failure to take more than four wickets in the last 128 - will deflate their self-belief beyond quick repair.

No individual can feel more like a winner than man-of-the-match Faf du Plessis, whose debut reflected the ebb and flow of the Test. On Thursday, his first leg-spinner was despatched out of the ground. His next meaningful contribution was to fluff a catch.

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Faffing about … Siddle curses the Proteas blockade. Photo: Reuters

But from the first ball he faced with a bat in his hand, clipped through mid-wicket for two on Saturday morning, the 28-year-old was a composed graduate of the school of thought that says Test cricketers are best introduced when well-seasoned.

The final day unfolded in stages. Du Plessis and A.B. de Villiers, who had survived six years of high school together, probably saw six hours of a tired, depleted Australian bowling attack as a comparative doddle. Both aggressive batsmen, they showed they had more than one natural game by blocking out 35 overs, scoring 49 runs by lunchtime.

It was du Plessis who had the greater worries, being sent to the third umpire three times after lbw appeals. The third, off Nathan Lyon, looked closest. But Hawkeye had been repeatedly saying that the ball was, like Rory Kleinveldt on a night out, travelling too high, and did so again. By the first break, Australia had exhausted their rights of appeal.

After lunch came a change, when de Villiers was bowled by Peter Siddle for 33: four hours, 220 balls, and not a single boundary from one of the most attractive belters in cricket. Not since Kevin Rudd talked about shaking sauce bottles has a public figure acted so out of character.

Now Jacques Kallis minced out stiffly to plant himself in front of his wicket like a bouncer at a hot nightclub. He put in a two-and-a-half-hour shift and should have been on at least double-and-a-half time.

It was two balls before tea that the climacteric came. Matthew Wade had been tempting fate, and perhaps his opening bowler's ire, by standing up to the stumps to Ben Hilfenhaus. Du Plessis pressed and nicked, and Wade dropped it.

''You've just dropped the ICC mace'' doesn't quite have the ring of dropping the World Cup, but Wade was distraught, the last man off the field for tea. He knew he'd had a bad match, missing Graeme Smith in the first innings and scoring few runs. His moustache was looking less and less Rod Marsh and more and more Greg Dyer.

But Wade is a tough competitor who will turn this experience into motivation. That's the brutal truth about being 10 years younger than your nearest rival: Brad Haddin's mistakes were seen as evidence of decline, whereas Wade's are seen as evidence of a learning curve.

Meanwhile, du Plessis looked happy to faff about all day. Safe to say the Australians had worked out his preference for the on-side: Michael Clarke was setting the kind of field Don Bradman used to face, a cordon of silly mid-ons and short mid-wickets and nobody between first slip and extra-cover.

None of it ruffled du Plessis. He spent longer in the 90s than many of us would care to remember, surviving a nick off the ever-keen Siddle and a rap on the pads off Hilfenhaus, and found enough partners to see off a last shift of atmosphere when the wind got up and Siddle charged in with a brave but ultimately fruitless final spell.

Stonewalling has always had an undeserved bad rap, back beyond the days when Bill Lawry was known as the corpse with pads. In 1886, when England's William Scotton scored 34 in four hours against Australia, Punch mocked him with a poem:

Block, block, block,

At the foot of they wickets, ah, do!

But one hour of Grace or Walter Read

Were worth a week of you!

 

But England won that match, and South Africa and du Plessis achieved something just as honourable here.