Ricky Ponting scored a century in his 100th Test and Adam Gilchrist inspired a rearguard revival yesterday as South Africa failed again to fully capitalize on an Australian batting collapse.
Compounding their aggravation, the South Africans complained about umpiring decisions and of one player -- white fast bowler Andre Nel -- being racially taunted.
After three days of the third cricket test, South Africa had a 96-run lead with two days remaining to level the three-match series 1-1.
Ponting (120) notched his 27th Test hundred, including a 130-run stand with Mike Hussey (45), to lift Australia from an overnight 54-3 to 225 before his dismissal sparked a middle-order slide.
But after Australia lost three wickets for four runs -- including two on consecutive balls to Nel -- Gilchrist galvanized the lower order, scoring 86 runs as the last three wickets added 133.
He safely ushered Australia past the follow-on target (252) and was last man out with Australia at 359, reducing South Africa's first innings lead to 92.
The South Africans, who declared their first innings closed late on the second day at 451 for nine, were 4-1 in their second innings at stumps.
Brett Lee trapped A.B. de Villiers (1) lbw in the over before stumps, leaving skipper and fellow opener Graeme Smith unbeaten on three.
Nel, who returned 4-81, claimed he'd been racially taunted by a spectator and made a formal complaint to match officials.
Cricket Australia responded by making announcements via the public announcer and on the scoreboard condemning all discrimination.
The alleged culprit was not located, despite extra security sent in to that section of the 23,630-strong crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
South Africa coach Mickey Arthur said that while his players expected some heckling from the crowd, they deplored racial vilification.
He also was upset with his squad for not making the most of its opportunities and about a few lbw decisions that didn't go their way.
"We're disappointed that we failed possibly to capitalize again, but we would have taken a 100 lead at the start," he said. "We feel we need another 200. If we can get that, we're set up for a huge last day. It'll be a great end to the series."
At least three Australians had borderline lbw calls go in their favor including Ponting, against Charl Langeveldt when he was on 95.
Risking a fine for speaking his mind, Arthur complained about the decisions.
"We felt we were on the back end of a few decisions that didn't go our way -- I am disappointed, yeah, to be honest," he said. "Certainly, we feel we had Ponting, Hussey and Symonds earlier than they were eventually out."
Regardless, he said South Africa would be on the attack on day four, risking a 2-0 series loss as it chased a series-leveling win.
Ponting said South Africa had the edge, but Australia was still capable of winning the bowlers could get early wickets on Thursday.
"To have a first innings lead at the SCG is generally pretty important," he said. "The wicket has more variable bounce now than what there was earlier so obviously we don't want to be chasing too many.
"I think the highest winning chase here is 270-something, but there have been bigger totals made batting last here," he added. "We got 380 against India a couple of years ago and though we didn't win we still made those runs."