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Commanding Australia bats through day to lead SAfrica by 402

March 3, 2018

Australia's players leave the field as match delayed by bad light on during day three of the first cricket test match between South Africa and Australia at Kingsmead stadium in Durban, South Africa, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — Steve Smith’s relative failure did nothing to slow Australia’s march toward expected victory in the first test against South Africa as the tourists batted through the entire third day on Saturday to build an imposing lead of 402 runs.

Smith was out for 38 lbw to part-time spin bowler Dean Elgar, the first time in six test innings that the Australia captain hasn’t passed 50.

But 53 from opener Cameron Bancroft and contributions from Smith, David Warner (28) and Shaun Marsh (33) ensured Australia moved on to 213-9 at stumps, having opened its second innings at the start of the day.

With a lead of 189 from the first innings, Australia was in complete command despite the three wickets each for spinner Keshav Maharaj and quick bowler Morne Morkel, and two for pacer Kagiso Rabada to go with Elgar’s surprise strike.

The pitch was slowly deteriorating, and reverse swing and spin were becoming big factors for the batsmen to try and negotiate. That makes South Africa’s task to save the game immensely difficult.

Australia had put the test seemingly well out of reach of the home team, which now needs its highest ever fourth-innings score at Kingsmead to win, or must bat for a long, long time to survive for a draw.

“I imagine it’ll get more and more difficult to bat and more difficult for new batters to start their innings,” Australia’s Bancroft said.

Elgar, who had bowled a total of six overs in tests in the last two years, got the No. 1-ranked test batsman with the fourth ball he delivered. It straightened enough and hit Smith on the pad in front as he tried to sweep. Smith tried, also, to survive through a decision review and failed.

Elgar’s regular job of opening the batting is more important for the home team now though, and, not helping matters, he dislocated the small finger on his right hand taking a catch later in the day. He ran straight off the field after the catch to get treatment.

Australia did lose Warner and Usman Khawaja (6) reasonably early in the day at Kingsmead but that didn’t affect the tourists’ rapid run rate before lunch — they were going at over four an over in the first session — as they built a dominant position in the series opener.

Bancroft’s half-century ended a run of poor form when he went seven innings without a 50. He got to his half-century with a hook for four off Morkel, one of 10 fours for him before he came down the track to spinner Maharaj and was stumped just a few minutes before the lunch break.

Bancroft and Warner put together a 56-run opening stand, playing with positive intent before Warner played a mistimed pull to substitute fielder Wiaan Mulder off Rabada. Maharaj had Khawaja caught off the glove for the first of his three wickets.

After Smith went, Mitchell Marsh fell to Rabada via Hashim Amla’s 100th catch in test cricket. Tim Paine was out to Maharaj and Morkel collected his three in the final session.

Smith’s 38-run stand with Shaun Marsh was the next-best after the half-century the openers put on, but Australia was still dictating the pace of the game by the time bad light stopped play with the last pair at the crease.

Australia is in a winning position in Durban after making 351 all out batting first and then dismissing South Africa for 162 in its first innings, with left-arm pace bowler Mitchell Starc taking 5-34. That gave the Aussies their large first-innings lead and the early momentum in the first four-test series played between the countries since 1970.

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