PERTH, Australia (AP) — AB de Villiers doesn't think he's entirely ruined Ricky Ponting's last Test, leaving the former Australia captain the slimmest of opportunities to produce an heroic innings to beat South Africa and reclaim the number one ranking for his country before retirement.
The equation certainly is stacked in South Africa's favour, though, after de Villiers (169) and Hashim Amla (196) produced big centuries in quick timeyesterday to lift the tourists to 569 in the second innings and set Australia an unlikely victory target of 632 in the third Test.
Australia were 40 without loss at stumps on day three. About the only positives for them is there's still two full days to play and the WACA pitch that was hostile enough early for 20 wickets to tumble in the first five sessions has flattened out completely.
The 37-year-old Ponting announced on the eve of the match that he would quit after Perth, where he equalled Steve Waugh's record of 168 Tests for Australia. He was out for four in the first innings, continuing a run of poor form in the series, as Australia were skittled for 163 in reply to South Africa's 225. Not only did the South African bowlers fire for the first time in the series to have the Australians out in their first innings before tea on day two, but the batsmen plundered 206 runs in the evening session to seize control of the match.
The emotion surrounding Ponting's retirement was supposed to spur the team to greater heights in a match that will determine top spot for 2012. The first three days have gone to top-ranked South Africa, but Arthur hasn't written off the test just yet.
"No," he said, smiling. "Ricky will get 250 not out in the second innings and it'll be fantastic."
The record successful fourth-innings chase is West Indies' 418-7 to beat Australia at St John's in 2003. The South Africans went close to that here four years ago when they scored 414-4 — with Arthur as coach — to beat Australia and clinch the 2008 series.
The highest fourth-innings total ever was England's 654-5, from 218 eight-ball overs, chasing 696 to beat South Africa in a famous timeless match at Durban in March, 1939, when both captains finally agreed to a draw after 10 days of play so the tourists could get a ship back to Britain.
David Warner (29) and Ed Cowan (9) started the long and unlikely push for a win, surviving 61 minutes before stumps to cut the target to 592.
Both openers have scored centuries in this series and the Australians have runs on the board from skipper Michael Clarke, who has scored double centuries in the first two drawn tests and Mike Hussey, who has two centuries. Ponting, Australia's all-time leading run-scorer, is yet to produce a decent innings and is due to bat at number four.
Amla batted at number three for South Africa and stroked 20 boundaries as he shared stands of 178 with Graeme Smith (84), 81 with Jacques Kallis (37) and 149 with de Villiers until he gave a return catch to Mitchell Johnson in the middle session.
He started the day on 99, with South Africa at 230-2, and reached his 18th Test hundred in the first over. He treated the inexperienced bowling attack almost with disdain at times by walking across his off stump and flicking the ball onto the legside, scoring with ease for most of his 221-ball knock.