Australia started the day needing 14 wickets for an unlikely victory and a South African series clean sweep but could only muster six as the Proteas batting finally showed some grit to force a draw in the third test at at Sydney Cricket Ground.
The hosts toiled under some welcome sun in a match that was frequently impacted by weather delays and while it achieved its first aim on Sunday of enforcing the follow on after bowling South Africa out for 255, further inroads proved few and far between.
At stumps South Africa was 106-2 in its second innings having lost Dean Elgar again cheaply to complete a miserable series for the skipper and Heinrich Klaasen was the only wicket to fall in the final session.
Josh Hazlewood took five wickets over the two South Africa innings in his return to the team after missing three tests with injury, while Pat Cummins bowled with menace throughout the final day to claim four wickets.
Earlier, Australia ended South Africa’s first innings rearguard resistance shortly after lunch and enforced the follow-on.
As he did in the first innings Cummins (1-16) made the initial breakthrough, again having Elgar (10) caught down the leg side.
It completed a miserable series for the Proteas skipper who made just 56 runs in six innings after scores of 3, 2, 26, 0, 15, 10 for an average of just over 9.
After surviving multiple television reviews from a luckless Nathan Lyon, Heinrich Klaasen’s luck finally ran out when Hazlewood (1-9) found a way through the batter’s defense to bowl him for 35.
Sarel Erwee (42 not out) and Temba Bavuma (17 not out) saw the tourists to the close without further loss and South Africa’s first drawn test in 47 matches.
Earlier Sunday, Hazlewood took 4-48 as the host’s eventually broke South Africa’s resistance and bowled them out for 255, still 20 runs short of the follow-on target despite it being their highest score of the series.
Marco Jansen took several fearsome body blows from Cummins early in the day in a courageous innings of 11 from 78 balls before his resistance was finally ended from the unlikely source of Travis Head’s part-time spin.
Keshav Maharaj top scored with 53 from 81 balls and Simon Harmer made his highest test score of 47 from 165 balls as the two lower order batters shared a 85-run stand over nearly 27 overs before Hazlewood removed both with balls angling towards the stumps.
Nathan Lyon (2-88) caught and bowled Kagiso Rabada to finish the innings and Cummins immediately enforced the follow-on and gave his team 47 overs to try and bowl South Africa out again.
On Saturday, Australia had a glimpse of what appeared an unlikely victory as it took six of the 20 South African wickets it needed after Cummins declared the host’s first innings at 475-4, with Usman Khawaja top scoring with 195 not out and Steve Smith making 104 for his 30th test century.
Cummins then took three wickets in a fearsome display of pace bowling at his home SCG, while Hazlewood picked up two and Nathan Lyon claimed another as the Proteas finished Saturday at 149-6, trailing Australia by 327 runs.
The draw denied Australia the win it needed to confirm a series clean sweep and its place in the world test championship final to be played at Lord’s in England in June, although it will have further opportunities to do so on the four-test tour of India starting in February.
Australia had already won the series after two crushing defeats in the first two tests at Brisbane and Melbourne for its first series win at home against South Africa since 2005-06, where it also won 2-0 in a three test series.