Proteas captain Faf du Plessis is still unbeaten in the second innings against Australia at the Wanderers. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – South African caution was perfectly understandable here on Sunday.

Leading the series 2-1, there is no need to take any risks, especially when one of the quicks is battling a side-strain as is the case with Morné Morkel.

This may not be Australia ’s best team and they maybe be mentally fractured, but there is no need to disrespect them or the game.

Faf du Plessis wants an unassailable lead, and he wants to leave Australia no time in which they can achieve whatever target is set.

There is too much at stake here for the Proteas.

It’s been 48 years since a South African team has beaten an Australian one on home soil.

It is the one missing piece of the Proteas Test puzzle post-isolation, and having worked so darn hard in the last three weeks to attain an advantage, it’s not one, even with such distracted opponents, that can be casually tossed away.

There is also so much time left in the match, and a 401-run lead which they will sleep on this evening is a significant one from a psychological perspective for them as well as the tourists.

Then there’s the unfortunate case of Morkel.

Playing his final match for his country, he dashed off the field after bowling two balls of his 13th over, with what the team management later said was a side strain – the exact one that he picked up in the first Test of the season against  Bangladesh  in September and which kept him sidelined for six weeks.

He will try and push on for the remainder of the match, and you suspect he’ll take a few pain-killers if it will help him get through a few overs in what will be his last acts in a Proteas shirt.

Vernon Philander was the pick of the Proteas bowlers. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

At tea time on Sunday, he – together the with team’s physiotherapist Craig Govender and long time teammate Dale Steyn – headed into the plush medical centre at this ground that Govender help build, to utilise some of the fancy equipment in there to accelerate his rehabilitation.

Given the nature of the injury you’d think there’s little chance of him bowling, which would mean a heavy workload for Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj.

Of course that trio has history with that kind of thing, for they did the job in  Perth  two years ago when  South Africa  won the opening Test of that series after Steyn cried off with a busted shoulder in  Australia ’s first innings.

That match, however, took place relatively early in the summer.

This one is right at the end, and Rabada in particular has carried an enormous workload this season.

So, having refused to enforce the follow-on despite a lead of 267,  South Africa ’s main aim was to use up time on Sunday.

The scoring rate hovered around 2.4 and for Dean Elgar, it was an almost ideal situation – grind, grind, grind – as he reached stumps on Sunday unbeaten on 39 off 158 balls.

Du Plessis, meanwhile, who was out first ball in the first innings not offering a shot, did the same move to start his second dig, but the ball from Pat Cummins on this occasion just shaved the off-stump.

He too stuck around, fighting to gain some semblance of form in the last innings of the season.

He’ll return to the crease on Monday morning on 34, trying to push his team’s lead into the stratosphere where  Australia  won’t be able to reach it.

Morkel will be assessed in the morning, but the nature of such injuries means it would be a miracle if he could bowl anything more than at the most medium of medium-pace.

Cummins’ was pace was anything but medium. While his teammates have been flat, he has kept charging in playing the game in the only manner he knows, full on.

The ball to dismiss AB de Villiers was a result of that unceasing energy and was his 20th wicket of the series.

Earlier he’d made a maiden Test half-century. He is the one Australian player who will emerge from this sorry – for them – series with his reputation intact.

IOL Sport