Perth: 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 the series-deciding match. The 178-run second-wicket partnership made a mockery of the seemingly hostile conditions for batsmen on a WACA pitch that had delivered 21 wickets by the second over of the sixth session.
South Africa was dismissed for 225 on day one and skittled Australia for 163 before tea on day two. Smith and Amla combined after Alviro Petersen (23) was out in the first over of Saturday's last session and scored at 6.98 an over before Smith was out for 84.
Amla was unbeaten on 99 and Jacques Kallis was not out 17 to help lift the tourists to 230-2 at stumps, an overall lead of 292.
Three extraordinary catches led to wickets on the second evening. Alviro 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 almost the length of the pitch to pouch an athletic return catch that lobbed off the shoulder of the South African opener's bat in the first over after tea.
The Amla-Smith stand finally 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.
After draws in the first two tests, this test — which will decide not only the series but the world No. 1 ranking — is headed for a result.
After a dozen wickets tumbled on the opening day, another 10 fell on day two after Australia resumed at 33-2. Dale Steyn took a pair of wickets in the second over Saturday, triggering a collapse in which Australia slumped to 45-6, and returned 4-40 for the innings, belatedly making his mark on the series.
Robin Peterson took the last three Australian wickets with his left-arm orthodox spin after Matthew Wade's rearguard 68 came to an end.
Australia only added two runs to its overnight total before opener David Warner (13) was caught behind, playing rashly outside off stump to Steyn to spark a half hour of carnage and a collapse of 4-11 — including the wickets of ex-captain Ricky Ponting (4) and skipper Michael Clarke (5).
Ponting got a standing ovation from the crowd when he went in to bat in his 168th and last test match and got off the mark quickly with a single, then watched as night watchman Nathan Lyon was out two balls later, slicing Steyn to du Plessis at gully.
Ponting faced seven balls before he was trapped lbw by Vernon Philander. Australia's position deteriorated further when Clarke 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.
Wade raced to his 50 from 51 balls, raising his half century with his third six, but dug in after the lunch break and slowly helped reduce the deficit before his dismissal triggered another late collapse. Peterson bowled Johnson (7), also attempting to sweep a ball that didn't turn, and Hastings drove him to 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 at the same ground where South Africa chased 414 to beat Australia for a series victory in 2008. He and Amla were scoring at 7.59 an over as their partnership hit 124 but were slowed down by a spell from Mitchell Johnson.
The record for the fastest century stand in terms of run-rate was the 7.32 an over in a 144-run opening stand between Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya against Bangladesh at Colombo in September 2001. The Amla-Smith stand eclipsed the South African record of 6.22 an over which Smith and AB de Villiers scored at while compiling 217 against Zimbabwe at Cape Town in 2005.