Port Elizabeth, South Africa: Wayne Parnell returned to test cricket after four years with two wickets in his first three balls as South Africa forced life out of a previously placid pitch to have Australia 112-4 and 311 behind on a day the home team hopes is series-swinging on Friday.
Trailing 1-0, top-ranked South Africa found prolonged momentum for the first time in the series on the second day of the second test at St. George's Park, first when AB de Villiers and JP Duminy made centuries and shared a 149-run stand to take the Proteas to 423 in its first innings.
And then when Parnell and Vernon Philander got a little sideways movement and bounce out of the sluggish surface to snatch four Australian wickets in 25 overs at the end of the day.
It could have been six, but opener David Warner was still there on a rapid 65 after being dropped by wicketkeeper De Villiers, and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon avoided a review that would have shown he was out and another dropped catch by Duminy diving in the gully in a breathless final two hours.
"It could have been (worse) if they took a couple of chances," Australia coach Darren Lehmann said. "Look, they bowled very well, give them credit there."
Parnell had 2-19 at his home ground and Philander 2-26.
Philander removed opener Chris Rogers early lbw and Parnell's life off the pitch got rid of Alex Doolan for 8 and Shaun Marsh for a duck in his first three deliveries in his first test since 2010 and first on his ground. Captain Michael Clarke reflected Australia's gung-ho approach to the start of its first innings with 16 of his 19 runs coming from boundaries, but he mistimed another attacking shot to Philander and was caught in the covers for 81-4, leaving Lyon to battle through the last eight overs.
With Warner racing past 50, after being dropped by De Villiers on 43, and Lyon hanging on grimly, South Africa missed the chance to inflict serious damage.
"We let ourselves down in the end there with two dropped catches," Duminy said. "Hopefully we'll catch them tomorrow."
De Villiers made 116 for his 12th score of 50 or better in his last 12 tests, six of them centuries. Duminy top-scored with 123 after being under pressure for his place in the team as South Africa preferred to grind its way to a big first-innings score rather than race away like the Australians.
Australia's left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson, South Africa's destroyer in the first test, finished with 1-70 as the Aussie quicks struggled through the two days and 150.5 overs they were forced to remain in the field, and offspinner Lyon led the attack with his 5-130.
But the significance of South Africa's score, which also featured half-centuries by Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis on the first day — and the significance of Clarke placing four catchers at short midwicket at one point in a desperate ploy to unsettle De Villiers — was not clear until Australia's hectic start to its reply.
The pitch was deemed sluggish, almost lifeless, and De Villiers responded to Clarke's unorthodox plan by nonchalantly launching a six over those fours fielders' heads. Johnson and his fellow Australian fast bowlers went over 140 overs without a wicket. Yet Parnell, Philander and the bounce of Morne Morkel, combined with Australia's attacking mindset, saw wickets fall, edges fly and chances go down at the end of the day and the game move on at a rapid pace.
"The Aussies always come out fighting and play a few shots," Duminy said. "Fortunately that played into our hands a bit."
Lehmann still backed his middle order to find a way back into the match on Saturday, relying on the signs mainly Warner showed when he blasted 40 off his 65 runs off 67 balls in fours that there are plenty of runs on offer.
Australia has also recovered regularly in the last year after its top order failed, and it was 98-4 at the start of the first test at Centurion before blazing its way to a 281-run win.
"From our point of view, we've been in this situation probably too often," Lehmann said. "We know what we've got to do."