Tempers flare as Aussies close in on Test win
MITCHELL Starc is out to ensure a farcical pause to Australia's inevitable romp towards victory in Durban is worth the wait tonight, as the devastating quick primes himself for a crack at a hat-trick.
Tim Paine's magic hands prevented what was shaping as a scarily nervous night for Australia following an unexpected South African fightback on day four.
But a stunning catch standing up to the stumps to Mitchell Marsh opened the floodgates for the man who terrorises tail-enders for fun, and it would have been all over in a flash, had bad light not spoilt the party and raised further questions about the sometimes embarrassing rigidness of cricket rules.
Despite a magic century from 23-year-old whiz Aiden Markram (143) that had the tourists sweating, South Africa are now all but dead and buried, 123 runs behind with only one wicket left for Australia to seize a major advantage in the series.
Starc last night annihilated the Proteas with a triple-wicket maiden highlighted by Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada having their stumps poleaxed in successive deliveries.
The only problem was Starc's frightening pace was too much for the umpires as well, and Starc's bid to complete a hat-trick the very next over was vanquished as bad light prompted the match officials to give Australia no option but to bowl spinners if they wanted the day to continue.
It was hard to argue with the umpire's call to prioritise player safety, but the fact red tape has stopped organisers from starting play earlier in the morning each day seems ridiculous given the amount of time lost to bad light in this match and in the history of Durban Tests.
"That's the nature of the game these days. That's the way the umpires operate," said commentator Michael Holding on ESPN Cricinfo.
"They have a protocol by which they operate and they just stick to it irrespective of what is happening in the game. Can you imagine if there was no cricket tomorrow after they have walked off the field like that? What would people say? But they just stick to a protocol."
The silver lining is Starc may have a shot at a maiden Test hat-trick.
Quinton de Kock, 81 not out, will resume on strike, meaning Starc may wait and hope for the second over for the prospect that he will be able to charge in at No.11 Morne Morkel with a brand new ball.
Paine - fresh from the most critical catch of his Test career - said Starc would start on day five like a runaway train.
"Oh well, he gets a chance (tonight) now," he said.
"We'll come in early, do another warm-up and see what happens.
"He showed what he can do when the ball starts to reverse-swing - or hopefully tomorrow when he gets the new ball in his hand. He's such a dangerous, fast, left-arm bowler that it's a delight to have him in your team."
Markram and de Kock had started to demoralise the Australians with their 147-run stand that was agonisingly close to surviving to stumps - at which point Steve Smith's side would have been under incredible heat.
Paine's instincts told him to come up to the stumps to all-rounder Mitchell Marsh in a bid to find a way through Markram.
It worked immediately, Paine taking a catch described by wicket-keeping great Adam Gilchrist as "sublime".
Paine said it was a satisfying and relieving moment.
"I've tried it a few times on flattish wickets, there was a bit of reverse swing so if we're honest we were going to try and trap him on the crease and get him lbw," he said.
"But as you saw, it bounced a bit more and got an outside edge so I'm very grateful it stuck.
"I think it's always a chance when you're up to the stumps. It certainly mixes the batsmen's feet up a little bit and makes them play in a certain, different way.
"I wouldn't say they were starting to get away from us, they were playing very well, but we knew we had a new ball around the corner and we know what our attack can do when we start to get it at the tail.
"So we knew we were one wicket away and we were right in the contest, but from a wicketkeepeing point of view, that's what I try and do.
"I try and change the game, so I just needed to come up to the stumps to try and do something different and it was great that it stuck in there."