South Africa have survived a dramatic final afternoon of the second Test in Adelaide, with a heroic eight-hour century from debutant Faf du Plessis cutting short Australia's aspirations for a return to the summit of the world rankings.
The 28-year-old batted the entire final day, enduring physical and mental toil to incredibly ensure the Proteas escaped with a draw with two wickets in hand. On his haunches at times and shunning singles at willing in a tense final 10 minutes, du Plessis held on in combination with the tall fast bowler Morne Morkel, withstanding a fierce late assault from a brave but ailing Peter Siddle (4-54), who looked thoroughly sapped after tipping 60 overs for the match.
South Africa, set a world-record 430 to win after lunch on Sunday, instead opted to set their sights on saving the apparently unsavable and, after an innings lasting nearly five sessions, have left the three-match series all square heading to Perth on Friday.
The indefatigable du Plessis's 110 not out was monumental. He batted for 464 minutes, faced 376 balls, somehow inspiring a draw that looked far fetched when the Proteas slumped to 4-45 on Sunday.
"There was so many emotions going through me," said du Plessis, named man of the match despite Clarke's 230. "In the nineties I had goose bumps all the time. I can't put it into words. We said we were going to take it session by session and if we can have wickets in hand going into the last session we'd be OK. And that's what happened."
Du Plessis, having made an under-appreciated 78 in South Africa's first innings, was the epitome of stoicism throughout. Having joined his former schoolmate AB de Villiers - they were classmates in Pretoria - after tea on Sunday they resisted everything directed at
them until just after lunch. De Villiers, whose 33 runs from 220 balls, illustrated his penchant for patience and powers of concentration, dabbed away all and sundry until an electric ball from Siddle caught him unaware, sneaking through the gate to crash into the bail of his off stump.
Du Plessis had already been given out not when offering a shot twice, on 33 and 37, by umpire Billy Bowden in successive overs in the morning. Both times he was provisionally judged leg-before to Clarke. He was spared, though, by varying degrees on review by the third umpire Asad Rauf.
His 99-run partnership with the hamstrung Jacques Kallis was also not without nervous moments. On 94 du Plessis was dropped just before tea by Australia's wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, who was standing up to the bowling of Ben Hilfenhaus. An edge dashed through his fingers, and his legs, before the gloveman could react.
Kallis, ambling between the wickets under the strain of injury, added a gallant 46 to the painful 58 he had endured earlier in the match, providing wisdom for the novice at at other end and fighting courageously through the grimaces.
He flashed at off-spinner Nathan Lyon on 38, and the off-spinner got a couple of fingers of his right hand to it, but it was only a half chance if that. Lyon would get his man, caught at bat pad by Ed Cowan for 46, in the final session and when the champion all-rounder departed gingerly Australia, after a day of attrition and frustration under a baking sun, suddenly fancied themselves.
With four wickets remaining to secure victory Clarke's side was met by more intransigence from the able Dale Steyn. The fast bowler spent more than half an hour, and 28 deliveries, parrying ball after ball but hadn't scored a run by the time a tiring Siddle had him caught, from a full toss, sharply by Rob Quiney at short mid-wicket.
Less than 40 minutes remained at that point. Tension gripped the Adelaide Oval, which flung open the gates for would-be spectators who could sneak away from work. Kleinveldt, surrounded by fieldsmen in his pocket and no doubt in his ear, had to shun his natural inclination to swing madly, as is the bulky paceman's style with the bat, but still played and missed agonisingly to Siddle. Scoring dropped basically to a standstill as they blocked Lyon and Clarke for their lives. With 13 minutes on the clock Kleinveldt he could not hang on, beaten by a dynamite sandshoe crusher by Siddle, himself operating on the last vestiges of energy. Morkel, against the odds however, then held on until the close.
"We threw everything at South Africa," Clarke said. "We didn't win the Test, but we didn't lose it either."