JOHANNESBURG - South Africa have taken control of this Test match even as events prior and further afield still attempt to hold the attention.
On Saturday morning (SA time) it was David Warner’s turn to make a tearful apology in Sydney a couple of days after his former captain, Steve Smith and former opening partner Cameron Bancroft had made theirs.
The danger remains that its those tears – along with Darren Lehmann’s when resigning on Thursday – that will become defining images of this Test match.
South Africa don’t want that. A rather large bit of history awaits them if/when this Test is won and letting Australian remorse continue to hog the spotlight would be unfair on what have been some wonderful performances from the Proteas on the opening two days.
Aiden Markram’s 152 was an innings for the ages, AB de Villiers having to struggle for runs was a testament to his grit, Temba Bavuma’s 95 was an innings in which he had to show patience and fight against some hard Australian bowling but also battle his own lack of form.
The Proteas were eventually bowled out for 488, with Australia collapsing to 110/6.
Keshav Maharaj finally showed some responsibility with the bat and played a delightful innings, finishing with what is hitherto his highest Test score, although such was the manner of his play, there are sure to be a couple of half-centuries in his future if he keeps playing that way.
With the ball the South Africans had ferocity from Kagiso Rabada, persistence from Vernon Philander and some late reward for Maharaj and the man playing his final match for his country Morne Morkel.
In the field Quinton de Kock produced one of the catches of the season, a quite thrilling display of technique and anticipation, to snaffle Usman Khawaja down leg side.
There has been so much to enjoy about South Africa’s play that it would be a shame if events related to the opposition camp overshadows that excellence.
Overall it was an wonderful day for the home team, with only the absence of a three figure score next to Bavuma’s name taking some of the shine off it.
It was a fine display of Test match batting from the 27 year old. His return to the starting team at Newlands last week was perhaps premature.
Having had just three matches under his belt since last Christmas – the two-day Test against Zimbabwe, a domestic 50-over match and a club game – his troubles were in Cape Town were understandable.
He really should have played the week before for the Cape Cobras in the Sunfoil Series, but didn’t and it was noticeable in his two innings’ in the third Test where made 1 and 5. His movement wasn’t good.
That seemed to be the case again here on Saturday morning, in the first hour when he scored just one run. But he took advantage of some good fortune gritted his teeth and hung in there. It was a case of staying at the crease, one can’t score runs in the dressing room.
After the morning drinks break, he suddenly was able to hit the gaps, there were some technically elegant drives, a few efficient sweeps against Lyon and one terrifically authoritative pull off Josh Hazlewood.
The afternoon produced drama as he closed in on a what should have been a second Test century.
How long would Maharaj battle himself and stay disciplined? Sixty-five minutes it was. Could Morkel hang around to support him? No.
Bavuma was left stranded on 95, but his teammates and the crowd here cheered him as if he’d reached the landmark – he was even given the honour of leading the team off the field at the end.