CAPE TOWN – Proteas paceman Morné Morkel was rightfully hitting the headlines on Friday for taking his 300th Test wicket, but it was Australian spinner Nathan Lyon who grabbed the spotlight at the end of day two of the third Test at Newlands on Friday.
Morkel finally reached his milestone in his 85th Test after lunch as he dismissed Australian left-hander Shaun Marsh for 26 to become the fifth South African to reach the 300 club behind Shaun Pollock (421), Dale Steyn (419), Makhaya Ntini (390) and Allan Donald (330).
The 33-year-old fast bowler ended with figures of 4/87 in 19 overs, but he must’ve been left frustrated by the antics of Australian off-spinner Lyon, who arguably brought his team back into the game with a wonderful cameo of 47 – his career-best score – off just 38 balls (8x4).
Try as Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Co might, they couldn’t counter the sometimes eccentric Lyon, who even stepped outside leg and carved the South African attack over third man on occasion.
He shared a vital partnership of 66 for the ninth wicket with wicket-keeper Tim Paine, who kept things steady at the other end.
The Proteas bowlers lost their rhythm and lacked the necessary firepower to knock over the Australian tail quickly after taking control following the lunch break.
The visitors collapsed with the fall of Shaun Marsh (26) on 150, losing five wickets for just 25 runs until Lyon and Paine came together.
Kagiso Rabada (3/81 in 19 overs) hit back strongly after conceding a few boundaries to David Warner in the morning, getting rid of the Australian left-hander for 30 off 14 balls, and later Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc for single figures.
Things were looking good for the Proteas – who were bowled out for 311 in the first session, with Dean Elgar unbeaten on an excellent 141 – as the Australians were reeling on 175/8.
But Lyon was the catalyst for the recovery under the floodlights, which was switched on once the “cloth” covered Table Mountain, and his innings was eventually ended by a fine running catch from Elgar at extra cover off Morkel.
When bad light forced the players off the field with 10 overs still left in the day, Australia went to stumps on 245/9 off 67 overs – just 66 runs behind South Africa – with Paine still at the crease on 33 and Josh Hazlewood on one.
The Proteas will hope to knock over the remaining wicket early on Saturday and safeguard as much of their lead as they can, as the Newlands pitch is likely to get tougher to bat, with some signs of uneven bounce already evident on Friday.