CAPE TOWN – Australia have begun their pursuit of a mammoth 430-run target for victory in solid fashion in the third Test against the Proteas at Newlands on Sunday.
While the headlines at the moment are about captain Steve Smith being suspended for one Test by the ICC for his role in the Cameron Bancroft ball-tampering incident, openers Bancroft (22) and David Warner (25) went to tea at 47/0 off 16 overs.
The visitors still have a long way to go, with 383 more runs required for a win that would hand them a 2-1 lead going into the fourth and final Test at the Wanderers next week.
But the Proteas will be concerned about not being able to get a breakthrough with the new ball, with Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morné Morkel the bowlers used so far.
The South Africans had done well with the bat earlier in the day, reaching 373 all out nearly an hour after lunch.
The highlight of the afternoon session was Philander producing his eighth Test half-century, but he was stranded on 52 not out off 79 balls (6x4, 1x6) as the likes of Rabada, Morkel and Keshav Maharaj perished in the cause of chasing quick runs.
Philander added to the 50s scored by AB de Villiers (63) and Quinton de Kock (65) on Sunday, but Aiden Markram was the highest run-getter with 84 on Saturday.
But the on-field action was overshadowed by the suspension of Smith, although Bancroft got off relatively lightly for using yellow tape to change the condition of the ball.
Smith has been suspended for the final Test against the Proteas in Johannesburg, as well as fined 100% of his match fee for his role in the ball-tampering.
Bancroft received three demerit points and fined 75% of his match for changing the condition of the ball.
In a statement on Sunday, the ICC said that chief executive Dave Richardson had laid the charge against Smith for a breach of the code of conduct for “all types of conduct of a serious nature that is contrary to the spirit of the game”.
“Smith accepted the charge and the proposed sanction of two suspension points which equates to a ban for the next Test match and which will see four demerit points added to his record,” the ICC said.
Richardson, a former South African wicket-keeper, slammed the Australian team for the ball-tampering episode.
“The decision made by the leadership group of the Australian team to act in this way is clearly contrary to the spirit of the game, risks causing significant damage to the integrity of the match, the players and the sport itself and is therefore ‘serious’ in nature,” he said.
“As captain, Steve Smith must take full responsibility for the actions of his players and it is appropriate that he be suspended.
Bancroft’s actions were deemed a Level 2 breach.
ICC match referee Andy Pycroft said: “To carry a foreign object on to the field of play with the intention of changing the condition of the ball to gain an unfair advantage over your opponent is against not only the Laws, but the spirit of the game as well.
“That said, I acknowledge that Cameron has accepted responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty to the charge and apologising publicly.
“As a young player starting out in international cricket, I hope the lessons learned from this episode will strongly influence the way he plays the game during the rest of his career.”