- Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day
Ponting overshadowed by dashing South Africans
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
When the critical moment of the series arrived, South Africa grabbed it with a ruthlessness entirely befitting the world's No. 1 team. On the day they had hoped for a valedictory Perth century from Ricky Ponting to capitalise on a strong opening to the match, Australia were instead dismantled with the bat and run ragged in the field. Hurried along at a cracking pace by Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith, South Africa's lead is already a vast 292 runs.
Dale Steyn joined Smith and Amla in turning in a command performance, and the hosts' response was limp, with only the isolated batting resistance of Matthew Wade and a pair of startling catches standing out amid mediocre batting and worse bowling. Ponting's rapid exit was a sombre subplot as South Africa's bowlers clambered all over Australia's batsmen, and Michael Clarke's team were simply overwhelmed in the final session by the poise and aggression of Amla and Smith. Much like Steyn, they identified the time to strike with fearful precision.
United when Alviro Petersen fell shortly after tea to Mitchell Johnson's thrilling return catch, Smith and Amla tucked into poor spells from John Hastings and Mitchell Starc in particular. While Smith enjoyed a series of deliveries directed heedlessly at his pads, Amla toyed with Australia's bowling and fielding placings by moving across the crease with impunity to flick to the legside or drive handsomely through the off. He finished the day only a run shy of a century in the final session.
Smith too deserved a century, but was thwarted in his quest by a hook he did not quite control and another stunning catch, this time by Nathan Lyon. Whatever succour Australia took from this moment was to be greatly reduced when Lyon appeared to lose his footing and spilled a simpler chance offered by Jacques Kallis shortly after - the drop more representative of the hosts' foggy approach to the evening's play, which completed perhaps their worst day's cricket at home since Clarke became captain.
It was almost as though Australia's players had been overcome by melancholy at the events of the morning. Granted an opening by David Warner's poor stroke to Dale Steyn's first ball of the day, the visitors produced bowling of the highest quality on a WACA pitch that had quickened overnight to rumble the hosts for 163.
Quieter than usual for most of this series, Steyn pounced on what may come to be remembered as this series' most pivotal day, moving the ball at high pace and conjuring arguably the ball of the series to find the outside edge of Australia's captain and batting cornerstone Clarke. Vernon Philander contributed the wicket of Ponting, his skidding trajectory winning a second LBW of the innings on a surface not lending itself to such dismissals with its steep bounce.
Peterson extracted a measure of revenge by defeating Wade after lunch, and the left-arm spinner added the wickets of Mitchell Johnson and Hastings to round up the innings and more than justify his selection.
Resuming at 33 for 2, Warner and the nightwatchman Lyon were charged with setting a foundation for Ponting and others. Warner kicked his commission away however with a flat-footed swish at his first sight of Steyn, an edge clearly audible though the opener compounded his error by calling haltingly for a review. With no strongly contradicting evidence available on replays, Richard Kettleborough's finger was raised a second time.
Ponting nearly shovelled his first ball to midwicket, but found a sharp single to get off the mark in his penultimate Test innings. That brought Lyon on strike to face Steyn, and first ball he was turned around by a well-pitched outswinger and the snick was held in the gully.
Willed on by a capacity crowd and countless television watchers, Ponting swivelled into one pull shot from Philander, the stroke looking attractive but not timed with the precision of his younger days. It was to be his only signature moment, as Philander whirred one down the line of middle and off to pin Ponting LBW. For what seemed reasons as much emotional as tactical, Clarke unwisely allowed Ponting to refer the decision, which confirmed the right call had been made, thus stripping the hosts of their remaining review.
Dominant as he has been this year, an outstanding delivery was required to dismiss Clarke, and Steyn duly provided it. Angling into the stumps before bending away treacherously late, Clarke did well to edge it, and South Africa rejoiced Australia's punch-drunk tally of 45 for 6. Wade and Hussey resisted for a time, the wicketkeeper taking the attacker's role while the senior batsman tried to weather a hostile spell from Morne Morkel.
Wade's innings showed that runs could most certainly be scored, but he lost Hussey not long before lunch as he pushed indeterminately at a Morkel delivery from around the wicket and presented a slips catch to Smith. Hastings fought out the remaining minutes of the morning, and after lunch gave Wade some stout company.
The stand was worth 40 when Wade miscalculated against Peterson, ending an innings that might have tilted the match had it been allowed to continue for another hour. Johnson's defeat was the result of subtle variations in flight from Peterson and a not-so-subtle response from the batsman, while Hastings was last out when Petersen took a steepling chance and then regathered it after stepping momentarily over the boundary rope at long off.
The opening overs of South Africa's innings featured a couple of nervy moments for Smith in particular, but all 10 wickets remained intact when tea was called. Alviro Petersen would be lost shortly after the resumption when he popped up a bouncer off glove or bat handle that Johnson did wonderfully well to catch after an athletic chase and dive, but the rest was to be a procession. South Africa are not quite hoisting the ICC's Test Championship mace, but after this day's domination they may as well be.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here