Australia reduced South Africa to 149 for six at the close of play on the fourth day of the rain-disrupted third Test on Saturday after declaring on 475-4 in pursuit of a victory that would give them a 3-0 series sweep.
The poor weather that had washed out the best part of two days of the match finally relented at lunch and Australia immediately declared to allow the bowlers as much time as possible to dismiss the tourists twice.
Skipper Pat Cummins (3-29) and Josh Hazlewood (2-19) rose to the task with some brilliant pace bowling as the hosts broke South African resistance every time a partnership looked like developing.
Marco Jansen, who had made 10 not out, and Simon Harmer, unbeaten on six, will resume on Sunday with the mission of edging the tourists to a tally of 275 to avoid the follow-on — South Africa’s best chance of forcing a draw.
Cummins’s decision to declare had left the unfortunate Usman Khawaja stranded five runs short of his maiden Test double century on 195 not out.
Khawaja’s tally was 164 more runs than Dean Elgar had managed in four innings in the series so far and the South Africa captain continued his poor run of form by gloving a short Hazlewood delivery behind for 15.
South Africa survived the remainder of the early pace offensive but Sarel Erwee followed his opening partner back to the dressing room for 18 when he left a Nathan Lyon delivery that clipped the side of his off stump.
Heinrich Klaasen departed for two in the next over, also gloving behind, to give Cummins his first wicket but the tourists held on to reach the tea break at 71 for three.
Temba Bavuma edged a Hazlewood delivery behind to depart for 35 to break up his promising stand with Khaya Zondo, who had made 39 when he was trapped lbw by a Cummins yorker in a decision confirmed by DRS.
Kyle Verreynne, South Africa’s best performer with the bat over a miserable series for the tourists, departed for 19 in a late pace barrage, Cummins inducing a stab at the ball which Steve Smith snaffled up in the slips.
“Oohs” and “aahs” echoed around the Sydney Cricket Ground in the evening gloom as Cummins and Hazlewood sought to make further inroads into the South African batting order but Jansen and Harmer held firm.
Australia have already locked up the series after comprehensive victories in Brisbane and Melbourne but need to win the final match to be certain of qualifying for this year’s World Test Championship final.
Their hopes of that win took a blow when bad light forced an early end to play on the second day of the match on Thursday, and Friday’s third day was entirely washed out by the heavy rain sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean.
The start to day four on Saturday was delayed by light rain but the skies cleared to allow the resumption of play and the forecast for day five promises clear skies and sunshine.