There was no shortage of drama on a day in Durban that saw 307 runs scored and 10 wickets fall as Australia came within reach of victory, but these are the moments that really mattered.
Starc bumper gets the ball rolling
It wasn’t so much the tactic that surprised, but perhaps how long it took to be employed by opening quick Mitchell Starc.
A bouncer barrage was to be expected when South Africa’s Dean Elgar walked out to begin the pursuit of 417 after he dislocated his right-pinky finger taking a sharp catch at cover to dismiss Starc late on day three.
Josh Hazlewood tested out the injured digit on Elgar’s top batting hand with some short-pitched bowling, but Starc stayed relatively full coming over the wicket to the left-hander.
That was until late in the 7th over of the innings – Starc’s fourth – when the lethal leftie banged one in short and collected the outside edge of Elgar’s blade through to Tim Paine in what was the start of 45 minutes of mayhem on Sunday morning.
Hazlewood gets his man. Again.
Once Proteas No.3 Hashim Amla made his way out to the middle of his former home ground, it was only a matter of time until Australia skipper Steve Smith turned to the ever-reliable Hazlewood.
The right-arm quick didn’t get a chance to bowl to his batting bunny in the first innings when Nathan Lyon struck the double-blow of Elgar and Amla in the space of four balls.
But once Starc had claimed the opening breakthrough of Elgar, Smith brought Hazlewood on to resume his battle with the South African champion.
It wasn’t long until Amla had been worked over as Hazlewood trapped him in front for eight to take their overall head-to-head record in Test cricket to 6-25 off 60 balls in the seven innings in which they’ve played against each other.
South Africa’s hopes dashed with AB run-out
Speaking with cricket.com.au before play on day four, Starc said the key to curbing the influence of Proteas superstar AB de Villiers in the fourth innings would be patience. And lots of it.
However, it seemed Proteas batsman Aiden Markram didn’t share the same sentiment when he worked a Lyon delivery to the leg side and rushed off for a single, only to re-assess after a couple of steps and send non-striker de Villiers back to the danger end.
Warner pounced from behind square, completed the perfect throw on the bounce to the awaiting Lyon and a dismantling of the stumps was enough to send de Villiers on his way for a duck having faced just a single delivery.
The tourists celebrated with gusto as any hope of a miraculous Proteas win all but vanished.
Carnage continues with Cummins cartwheel
With de Villiers brought undone in a moment of madness, South Africa then turned to skipper Faf du Plessis to lead the rescue mission.
Du Plessis is no stranger to marathon efforts to deny Australia victory, but a breathtaking piece of fast bowling by Pat Cummins ensured there would be no repeat.
The tearaway quick angled the ball in and then watched it jag back in between du Plessis’ bat and pad, before uprooting the off stump to send it cartwheeling in spectacular fashion.
A beautiful delivery that was brilliantly captured by Cricket Network cameraman Andre Mauger.
Paine brilliance ends Markram epic
After the disastrous run-out of de Villiers, 23-year-old Markram responded with an innings to remember as he and Quinton de Kock breathed life into the unlikeliest of run chases.
The pair added 147 runs in quick time until Mitch Marsh and Paine combined to kickstart another lower-order collapse from the home side.
Paine made the decisive move to keep up to the stumps when Markram was on strike – an attempt to trap him in front of his stumps it was later revealed – and claimed the pivotal breakthrough with almost immediate effect.
With just the second delivery that had the keeper up to the stumps, Marsh found some extra bounce to collect the outside edge and land safely into Paine’s gloves as he rose in perfect sync with the bouncing ball.
It was a remarkable catch not only for its technical skill, but also for the concentration and fitness required to pull off such a dismissal after 76 overs in the field on a hot Durban day.
Qantas tour of South Africa
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.
Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights
First Test Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5. Live coverage
Second Test St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13. Live coverage
Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26. Live coverage
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage