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Proteas' assault puts Australia on ropes

South Africa 2-230 (Amla 99 not out, Kallis 38 not out)
South Africa 3-320 (Amla 149 no, De Viliers 18)
South Africa 5-467 (de Villiers 116 no, Du Plessis 2)
Australia 0-40 (Warner 29, Cowan 9)

THE flame is about to flicker out for Australia's aspirations to be the official force of Test cricket. If there was the faintest spark distinguishable on Sunday morning, it has surely been stamped out by the ferocity and flair of Hashim Amla and A.B. de Villiers.

Their relentless hundreds enabled South Africa to set Australia a monumental 632 runs for victory in Perth - more than 200 more than the highest ever successful run chase and a figure not compiled by any team, anywhere, in a fourth innings since England ground its way to 5-654 against South Africa in the last timeless Test, in 1939.

In that match, the quest for 696 was abandoned after nine days of play for another priority - not missing the boat from Durban back to England.

Michael Clarke's men face no shortage of time, but barring a fully fledged miracle this ship has sailed. In fact, with two full days left in this third and deciding Test of the series it may as well be timeless.

The issue is staying alive, the most distant of objectives even on a deck that Amla (196) and de Villiers (169) made appear like paradise for batsmen and a living hell for Australia's new but quickly worn out bowlers.


This series, to determine the world No. 1 in Tests, has had dramatic undulations throughout for no result, but it would take the most extraordinary twist, not only this summer, but of all time, to avoid the inevitable here.

Australia, oddly enough, took 20 wickets in a match for the first time in the series, finally knocking over South Africa for 569 late on Sunday. That was only minimal consolation, however, on a day in which Amla and de Villiers dominated.

David Warner (29 not out) and Ed Cowan (9 not out) at least survived a dangerous 13-over period before stumps to keep Australia at 0-40.

Coach Mickey Arthur insists all hope is not lost.

''We bat for two days we win,'' he said. ''We've got to believe we can do it.

''If we don't believe we can do it there is no point in rocking up.

''The approach you take is batting session for session. You can't get ahead of yourself. A couple of big partnerships and you never know what might happen.''

Arthur said Australia's batsmen had ''let our bowling unit down'' on Saturday.

''As a batting unit to be all out for 165 wasn't good enough.

''The batting unit needed to take a little bit of the responsibility for that. It's always the bowlers who end up getting caned but if we had got ourselves a 70- or 80-run lead like we had planned the bowlers would have bowled with a different pressure.''

De Villiers, the hero for South Africa at the WACA Ground four years ago when he guided his team to its fourth-innings target of 414, reprised his starring role and toyed with Australia to bring up his 14th Test century with a remarkable three reverse sweeps in a row off off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

Amla's mighty ton, almost a double, was the centrepiece of the wrecking job done on Clarke's bowlers but de Villiers took the cake for sheer cheek. The reverse sweep is cricket's rock star shot and the wicketkeeper-batsman certainly enjoys the stage.

There was occasional light entertainment to break the trend of rampant run-scoring. Ponting, brought on to bowl his modest mediums for the last time in a Test, even tossed up a bouncer that drew laughs.

And in another deviation, Dean Elgar became the 38th player ever to register a pair on debut.

While Mitchell Starc topped the bowling figures with 6-154, his first Test five-for, it is unlikely to be an outing he will be telling the grandkids about.

The pick of a bashed-up bunch for Australia on Sunday was the other left-hander and other Mitchell, Johnson. In his first Test in a year, the 31-year-old finished with 4-110 to go with his two first-innings wickets, and managed four catches as well.

Two of them were screamers. The second came on Sunday, another brilliant return catch; he tossed out his right hand instinctively to snatch a thundering drive from Amla.

South African quick Morne Morkel rolled his ankle in a foot hole late on Sunday but he kept bowling.

''We're hoping [the wicket] will break up a bit over the next few days,'' de Villiers said.

''There are a couple of cracks opening up but it is a good wicket and we're aware of the fact that if we go the full length of the Test match they'll come quite close.

''We're not arrogant in any way whatsoever. We know Australia won't be giving it away.''

The number of balls faced by Amla for his 196 runs. While that score stuck the boots into a waning Aussie attack, the speed of his knock had just as big an impact on morale, the bearded batting master helping his side not only tally an impossible run chase, but giving it more than enough time to bowl its opponent out for a second time.

2 The number of days between an outstanding first-innings effort by the new-look Australian attack, and a less-impressive second innings outing. On Friday, the Aussies looked sharp, quick and resourceful. By mid-afternoon on Sunday, they looked completely out of ideas and inspiration, the front-liners never troubling Amla and de Villiers, the part-timers treated with contempt.

214 The little matter of how many runs Australia will have to break the current world record by if they are to make the 632 required to win this Test match. TAB Sportsbet offer a rather stingy $9 about Australia achieving it.

Even the odd local might have been disappointed to see Hashim Amla fall four runs short of a double-century, after he had turned on such an effortless display of class batting. His 196 came from just 221 balls, and featured periods of invention, blistering stroke play and even brief periods of restraint. His partnership with skipper Graeme Smith on Saturday dented Australia's spirits, his continued efforts on Sunday crushed it completely.

Like every other Australian bowler, Mitch Starc had his poor periods during South Africa's marathon second innings, but his persistence was admirable, and the big left-armer was eventually rewarded with some deserved spoils at the end and 6/154 as the Proteas looked to press ahead. Starc's six wickets certainly didn't come cheaply, at more than five per over, but his durability was impressive in only his fifth Test.

A.B. de Villiers' ton was the sort of classy knock we hadn't seen from the top-order bat cum wicketkeeper all series. His growing confidence was never underlined better than when he brought up 100, reverse sweeping off-spinner Lyon three balls in a row to race from 89 to 101. As if the attack wasn't already demoralised enough!