Aiden Markram fired the embers and for the better part of the fourth day looked like he would stoke the fires for an unlikely result.
Australia’s Mitchells — Starc and Marsh — again combined for an unexpected but telling double play in their stronger and weaker suits to leave Australia a wicket short of the Test win.
SA are on a precarious 293/9, making the 124 runs academic but subjecting their visitors to a night of restless sleep they could have avoided if Nathan Lyon and Steven Smith had removed Quinton de Kock and Morné Morkel in what looked like the twilight stage of a day-night Test.
Marsh is the lesser bowler but he snared the crucial wicket of Markram (143), whose third Test ton was SA’s high batting point of a shambolic display.
The fortitude displayed by Markram, Theunis de Bruyn (36) and De Kock (81*) in many ways more than made up for SA’s top order capitulating to Australia’s pace attack.
It also put the abject first innings in perspective, in which SA was dismissed for 162 in response to Australia’s 351.
With the ease in which Markram, De Bruyn and De Kock went about their business, a lesser target could have and would have been overhauled.
When Keshav Marahaj (4/102) dismissed Pat Cummins inside the first 30 minutes of Sunday to have Australia all out for 227, hope sprung eternal that a rearguard rescue could be on the cards, albeit it would have been the second-highest run chase if it had succeeded.
Australia’s pace trio of Cummins (1/47), Josh Hazlewood (2/57) and Starc (4/74) are not scarred by SA’s legendary fourth innings histrionics against them in Perth in 2008 and Adelaide four years later. They ensured history would not even think of repeating itself.
The centurion protagonists from those matches, AB de Villiers (0) and Faf du Plessis (four) sunk without a trace. When SA stumbled to 49/4 in the 17th over at the hands of Australia’s brutal pace triumvirate, it looked like it was over.
Markram had clearly decided it was going to be his red letter day. He viewed all his teammates’ dismissals with a monastic calm and put together two important stands with De Bruyn (87) and De Kock (147).
His third Test 100 came off 171 balls. His dismissal triggered the collapse in the 80th over.