This wasn’t meant to be the script.
With Australia in total control and South Africa needing the second biggest run-chase in cricket history – 417 – everything pointed to the tourists going one-nil up in the First Test at Kingsmead.
But someone forgot to tell Aiden Markram that, with his brilliant knock taking this match into a fifth day.
The South African young gun, playing just his 12th innings in his seventh Test, was a lone hand to keep the fired-up Aussies attack at bay on a wicket that was not helpful for batting.
The 23-year-old, who scored 143 from 218 balls and batted for 340 minutes, became the first century-maker in a Test that up that point had been dominated by the ball.
He was not assisted by the big names in the South African line-up who fell regularly around him with no other batsman in the top five reaching double figures – Dean Elgar went for nine, Hashim Amla (8), Faf du Plessis (4) and AB de Villiers (0).
The dismissal of De Villiers should have brought the hosts, and Markram, undone.
The South African legend called the young opener through for a single. Markram stood his ground and sent him back.
De Villiers didn’t get there in time and Nathan Lyon gleefully ran him out.
Thoughts in Markram’s head...— Glenn Maxwell (@Gmaxi_32) March 4, 2018
*dont run out AB*
*dont run out AB*
*dont run out AB*
David Warner, not known to the shy type, then gave Markram a gob-full along the lines of “Good work old chap, you just ran your best player and only hope of victory out.”
Clearly Markram didn’t listen as 50 overs later he was still there, bringing up his third Test century while Lyon was still waiting for his first wicket of the innings.
By the final hour of the day he was closing on 150 – already notching up the third-highest fourth innings score in South Africa’s history.
He found a willing partner in Quinton de Kock as South Africa worked their way towards what would be the most remarkable test victory.
But then Markram’s stunning innings should not have come as a surprise.
In a Test career that only began against Bangladesh last September, the Centurion-born right-hander has shown an elegant technique as proficient as much against spin and pace.
In December, he scored his second Test hundred against Zimbabwe and became the first Proteas player to score two centuries in his first three Tests.
He didn’t manage a ton in the series against India – his best effort 94 in the second Test – but when captain Faf du Plessis was ruled out of the ODIs and the T20 series against India, Markram was named as South Africa’s captain.
At the age of 23 years 123 days, he became the second-youngest player to captain South Africa in ODIs after Graeme Smith.
The Northerns’ opener is clearly up for the challenge and made of tougher stuff than the Aussies expected.
In the end, Markram was undone by a stunning catch from Aussie keeper Tim Paine off Mitch Marsh for 143 as South Africa finished the day on 293-9 and requiring an unlikely 124 more runs. Australia, of course, just need a solitary wicket to seal it on Monday.
Nathan Lyon’s three-wicket haul in the first innings of the opening Test between South Africa and Australia is a continuation of the off-spinner’s consistency with the red ball in the past five years.
The 30-year-old has been at the top of his game and now finds himself playing a leading role in Australia’s bowling attack.
His display in the five-year period starting from March 1, 2013 puts him amongst the top-five wicket-taking bowers in the format.
Here, we take a look at those elite bowlers.
STUART BROAD – 227 WICKETS
The England pacer might have endured a dismal Ashes Down Under but that does not stop him from featuring on the list.
The 31-year-old has formed a lethal partnership with James Anderson which has seen England become a dominant force in the five-day format.
Since 2013, Broad has picked up 227 wickets in 62 Tests at an average of 27.3. It includes his career-best figures of 8-15 in an Ashes Test against Australia in Nottingham in 2015.
NATHAN LYON – 228 WICKETS
The Aussie’s recent display has seen him overtake Broad to become the fourth most successful bowler since 2013. From a relatively unknown name when he first burst on to the scene in 2011, Lyon has established himself as one of the leading spinners in world cricket.
For the first time since the retirement of Shane Warne, Australia finally have a spinner who can hold his own on any track around the globe.
His 227 wickets during the five-year period have come from 55 Tests at an average of 30.8. It includes a career-best of 8-50 against India at Bengaluru last year, proving that Lyon can flourish in the subcontinent too.
RANGANA HERATH – 229 WICKETS
One wicket ahead of Lyon is Sri Lanka veteran Rangana Herath. Though his peak might have coincided with the start of the island nation’s recent decline, take nothing away from Herath who has been defying age and convention with his orthodox left-arm spin.
The 39-year-old has been one of the rare bright sparks for the islanders in their recent travails. He has picked up 229 wickets in just 44 Tests, at an average of 26.7.
His most memorable performance came in Sri Lanka’s 105-run win over Pakistan at Colombo in 2014 where he ran through almost the entire batting card with figures of 9-127.
JAMES ANDERSON – 235 WICKETS
The 31-year-old spearhead is without a doubt the best pacer to emerge from England.
Already fifth on the all-time wicket taking list and only behind Glenn McGrath amongst pacers, Anderson has been leading England’s pace attack for nearly a decade.
A master proponent of swing and seam, Anderson has the best average among the top five bowlers in the period at 23.7.
His best came at Lords against the West Indies in a devastating spell of 7-42.
RAVICHANDRAN ASHWIN – 236 WICKETS
The off-spinner has thrived on the back of a long and extended home season for India where they swept aside everyone in front of them to establish themselves as the top dogs in Test cricket.
Ashwin has picked up his 236 wickets in only 44 Tests at an average of 24.1.
The 31-year-old’s best figures came against New Zealand at Indore in 2016 where he picked up 7-59.
He might have been usurped by the wrist-spinners in India’s limited-overs setup, but in Test cricket, Ashwin still reins large as king.
Virat Kohli is flying high at the moment. In fact, he has been soaring for some time now. The India cricket superstar has established himself as a modern-day great and is frequently finds himself in conversations regarding the greatest of all time.
Having notched up 46 tons in all forms of international cricket, Kohli currently sits in the fifth position in the all-time list, 54 behind his idol and the leading century-maker Sachin Tendulkar.
He also lies in the same spot when it comes to all-time leading run-scorers having amassed a staggering 17,125 runs in 365 innings at an average of 55.6, the highest among any batsman with more than 10,000 runs.
Here, we take a look at signature Kohli innings across all three formats.
141 against Australia – Adelaide 2014
This is a ton which has been described as his finest by the man himself. Then newly appointed as the skipper of the Indian Test side, Kohli led by example in the opening Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test against Australia at Adelaide in December 2014.
Michael Clarke’s Australia put on 517-7 in their first innings after winning the toss, with India managing 444 courtesy a masterful 115 from Kohli. In the second innings, the hosts declared on 290, setting India a target of 363.
Kohli led India’s charge one again with an attacking 175-ball 141 that took India close to pulling off an incredible overseas win before a late order collapse following the skipper’s dismissal. It was an innings which defined Kohli’s batting and captaincy.
82* against Australia – Mohali 2016
In a virtual quarter-final at the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, hosts India took on Australia in a Super 10 clash at Mohali. On a difficult track, the Aussies set India a target of 161 after batting first.
The Men in Blue were in all kinds of trouble at 94-4 by the end of the 14th over but with Kohli at the crease, the chase was still on. The right-hander started with quick singles and doubles before moving up a gear. He forged an unbeaten match-winning partnership of 67 with MS Dhoni as India won with five balls to spare.
It was a Herculean effort by Kohli who sank to his knees as India scored the winning runs. A perfect example of a master ‘chaser’ finishing the job.
183 against Pakistan – Dhaka 2012
Then only a 23-year-old, Kohli walked in to the crease in the third delivery of India’s innings as Gautam Gambhir was dismissed for a duck. The right-hander then put on an exhibition of risk-free batting with maximum results, a style he has mastered since.
He played genuine cricketing shots all around the park, collecting 22 boundaries and a sole six to register his highest ODI score (183). He was eventually dismissed 12 runs short of the target but India still won with more than three overs to spare.