Lyon set to roar in Durban Test
THE scene is set for Nathan Lyon to terrorise South Africa tonight on a deteriorating pitch after Australia continued their drive towards first Test victory in Durban.
Cameron Bancroft got the monkey off his back last night with a much-needed half century, which helped Australia tighten their grip on proceedings with a 402-run lead.
Already South Africa would have to pull off one of the biggest run-chases in Test history to steal the opener, but Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood intend to bat on when day four commences as they try and pile on as many as they can muster for the last wicket.
At 9-213, a few more blows to the fence and Australia will surpass a lead of 418, the highest target that's ever been successfully chased down in the history of the game.
The situation is tailor-made for Australia's spin king Lyon, who will be salivating at the prospect of the rough and uneven bounce starting to characterise the Kingsmead surface.
Australia's batsmen fought hard to not lose wickets in clumps, but still found the going tough - particularly against South Africa's slow bowlers.
Lyon was dominant in the first innings and his extraordinary rise over the past 12 months has featured numerous examples of him putting opposition teams to the sword when the match goes on the line.
The stage is once again set for the man they call the GOAT.
"He's going to be massive. Really, really important," said opener, Bancroft.
"There's a lot of rough starting to develop outside the off-stump for the left-hand batter.
"With Mitchell Starc in our team and the abrasiveness of the wicket it's going to create some rough patches outside the right-hand batters' areas as well. He's a world-class bowler and he's going to be someone who's really important.
"Showing some discipline when we get that ball reverse swinging is going to be really important too."
Australia lost some cheap wickets on day three before bad light once again prematurely stopped play, but conditions got harder for batting the longer the day went on and Lyon and Starc present a major headache for the Proteas with still two days left in the match.
South African opener Dean Elgar dislocated a finger taking a catch late in the day, but the Proteas say he will be ready for battle when it's his turn to pad up.
Under the pump after a run of low scores, Bancroft responded in strong fashion and carved out his first 50 since making his Test debut against England at the Gabba way back in November.
He can now go into the second Test with renewed belief.
Selectors had thrown their support behind Bancroft at the start of the series and more than anything else, the 25-year-old may have proved to himself that he has the game to survive in Test cricket.
Known for his insatiable work ethic, Bancroft has been willing himself to find a way out of the rut that had engulfed him by the back end of the Ashes, and now he has at long last found some light at the end of the tunnel.
Bancroft had a big shot at a maiden Test hundred, but was stumped by South African spinner Keshav Maharaj for 53 in the over before lunch.
Australia lost a steady stream of wickets on day three, with Steve Smith's 38 and Shaun Marsh's 33 the next best scores on a Durban pitch that is increasingly going up and down.
The record fourth innings chase in Durban was 340, achieved by South Africa against Australia back in 2002, when Herschelle Gibbs made a stellar fourth innings century. The world record winning fourth innings chase is 418.
Despite Australia's sheer dominance, Usman Khawaja's struggles away from home continued.
Khawaja departed in soft fashion to spinner Keshav Maharaj, who was later mystified that he didn't get Australian captain Steve Smith out lbw.
Smith was given the benefit of the doubt by the umpire and ended up escaping with umpire's call, but he had no such luck a short time later when he fell to part-time spinner Dean Elgar for 38.
Bancroft can now head into the second Test in Port Elizabeth starting later this week not carrying the same baggage that had been weighing him down to start this series.
The West Australian rarely seemed troubled at the crease until his dismissal, and helped steady the ship following the back-to-back departures of David Warner and Khawaja.
Former Test player and respected commentator Brendon Julian was critical of Khawaja's meek dismissal also to Maharaj, where the Australian No. 3 attempted a reverse sweep to the spinner only to spoon one up off his glove.
Khawaja's record overseas has been a source of ongoing concern for Australia and he averages just 26 from 12 Test matches playing away from home.
In contrast, Khawaja has a 59 average on Australian pitches.
The left-hander mastered England's spinners in a brilliant Ashes Test century at the SCG back in January, but Julian says Khawaja still has it all to prove when the ball turns.
Julian believes Khawaja's mindset at the crease is completely thrown off its kilter when confronted with spin bowling.
"It feels like (he thinks) he's got to be aggressive, and attacking," Julian said in commentary on Radio SEN.
"It's disappointing for Usman Khawaja. It just looks all over for him when spin comes on. He panics and does not look settled. He's got to find a way to get out there and play positively with defence.
"It's a real concern as a No. 3 batsman. Sure (Australia) have got a lead of 260 but for him personally he's got to find a way to find more decisive against spin bowling."