Perth, Dec 1: Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith clobbered Australia's bowling attack Saturday in one of the quickest century stands ever in test cricket to seize control for South Africa after two days of a match that will settle the No. 1 ranking for 2012.
The 178-run second-wicket partnership in the third test made a mockery of the seemingly hostile conditions for batsmen on a WACA pitch that had delivered 20 wickets in the first give sessions.
South Africa was dismissed for 225 on day one and skittled Australia for 163 before tea on day two, with Dale Steyn making a belated impact on the series with a return of 4-40. Smith and Amla combined after Alviro Petersen (23) was out in the first over after tea and scored at 6.98 an over before Smith was out for 84.
Amla remained unbeaten on 99, one short of his 18th test century, and Jacques Kallis was not out 17 when South Africa reached 230-2 at stumps, an overall lead of 292, after adding 206 runs in 32 overs in the day's last session.
"Dale started well with the ball. We started well with the bat as well," South Africa paceman Vernon Philander said. "The way Graeme and Hashim batted was unbelievable, just taking the attack to them. So momentum is on our side."
Matthew Wade, who scored a belligerent 68 to bolter Australia's innings after it collapsed to 45-6, said his team would chase any target South Africa set, regardless of how imposing it could be.
The South Africans scored 414 in the fourth innings to win in Perth and clinch the 2008 series, and Wade is confident Australia can replicate that sort of chase.
"It would be easy to look at the negatives today, but I think we've got to look forward and realize we're going to be chasing a reasonably high total but on a good wicket," he said. "That's the positive we have at the moment. If we can scrap hard and get these eight wickets ... we're going to have the best time in the game to bat."
Australia had the better of the first two drawn tests, falling just two wickets short of a victory in Adelaide when Faf du Plessis batted through the last day to save the match for the tourists on Monday, but South Africa has the upper hand now.
"We definitely don't feel like the series is slipping away," Wade said. "We had a bad session this morning ... and this afternoon -- we're lucky that it's day two. If all things go well, we'll be batting tomorrow and chasing a total on day four."
While bowling dominated early, it took three extraordinary catches to snare wickets on the second evening.
Petersen took a hopping, juggling catch on the long-off boundary rope to remove John Hastings and end the Australian innings 22 minutes before tea, and then lost his own wicket when Mitchell Johnson sprinted the length of the pitch to snare an athletic return catch that lobbed off the shoulder of his bat in the first over after tea.
And the Amla-Smith stand only ended when the South Africa skipper pulled Mitch Starc over square leg and Nathan Lyon ran in from the deep to grasp a diving catch millimeters above the ground.
The stage was set for Ricky Ponting to make an impact in his 168th and final test when Australia resumed at 33-2 on Saturday, but he barely featured.
Steyn took a pair of wickets in the second over, triggering a collapse in which Australia lost 4-11.
Opener David Warner (13) was first out, caught behind playing rashly outside off stump to spark a half hour of carnage.
Ponting got a standing ovation from the 17,000-strong WACA crowd when he walked to the crease and got off the mark quickly with a single, then watched as night watchman Lyon was caught out two balls later from Steyn bowling.
The 37-year-old Ponting (4) faced seven balls before he was trapped lbw by Philander, and not even a referral to the TV umpire could save him. Australia's position deteriorated further when captain Michael Clarke (5) got an edge to a perfect away swinger from Steyn to make the total 45-6. It was Clarke's first serious failure of the series, after scoring double centuries in the first innings of both the drawn first and second tests.
It could have been even worse for Australia. Wade should have been out without scoring but Amla missed a run-out chance at the striker's end after Hussey took off for a dangerous, quick single.
But Wade recovered to share partnerships of 55 with Mike Hussey (12) and 40 with Hastings (32) to drag the hosts to 140-8 before his dismissal triggered another late collapse, with recalled allrounder Robin Peterson taking the last three wickets.
Wade and Johnson (7) were both bowled attempting sweep shots and Hastings drove him to Petersen at long-off.
The No. 1 ranking is on the line in Perth, where South Africa needs only a draw to retain top spot and Australia requires a victory.
Smith's batting indicated it doesn't want anything less than a big victory. He and Amla were scoring at 7 ½ per over as their partnership passed 100 but were slowed down by a spell from Johnson.
The record for the fastest century stand in terms of run-rate was Sri Lankan pair Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya's 7.32 per over in a 144-run opening stand against Bangladesh at Colombo in 2001.
The Amla-Smith stand eclipsed the South African record of 6.22 per over during Smith and AB de Villiers' 217-run stand against Zimbabwe at Cape Town in 2005.