Lyon proving star quality for Aussies

When Nathan Lyon boarded a flight to Colombo via Singapore in late August of last year he was a virtual unknown.

A little over 18 months since that foray into international cricket, and with a neat 50 Test wickets to his name, he can announce himself as a genuine match-winner for Australia on his home track today.

The Adelaide Oval strip is breaking up just as Lyon, its former ground-keeping assistant, suspected it would, in this second Test of wild contrasts.

The picture of Australia - via Michael Clarke, David Warner and Michael Hussey -hacking the South Africa attack apart on days one and two, could not have been further removed from what AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis were producing late yesterday afternoon.

Given a formidable 430 victory target, the pair could hardly be blamed for setting their sights on grinding out a draw, even if it remains a faint hope with the Proteas resuming on the final day on 4-77.

At stumps they were ambling along at a snail's pace, prodding or padding up to everything directed at them as Clarke, saving his bullets for today, took the ball himself and handed it to other part-timers Rob Quiney, David Warner and even the extremely occasional Ricky Ponting.

Tedious, but with intent - to miraculously save an unwinnable match - de Villiers (12 from 101 balls) and du Plessis (19 from 74) put on 32 in 29 overs together and will set out to continue their obduracy as long as they can.

They will surely be met with more challenges than those thrown their way in their stubborn two-hour stand, though, and that is where Lyon comes in.

At 25 and five days, he yesterday became the youngest off-spinner to acquire a half-century of Test scalps for Australia and he will hope to pick up more today.

He was pilloried for poor domestic form in the lead-up to this series, but improved in Brisbane and, via his stock off-break rather than his novelty alternative ball "Jeff", he appears more comfortable in his shoes by the day. Lyon sat out the Perth Test last summer, as Clarke opted for four quicks against India, but he could well play at the WACA from Friday.

Yesterday, Lyon played a key role as South Africa, with four and a half sessions to survive, slumped to 4-45 and in danger of being rolled in an afternoon. He took 2-15 in 15 overs, prompting Hashim Amla to edge to Clarke, who fumbled but completed the catch at slip, and then sending Jacques Rudolph on his way for a fourth time in four attempts in this series.

Ashley Mallett predicted that Lyon might do a Daryll Cullinan on Rudolph and he was dead right.

It was Ben Hilfenhaus, however, who gave Australia a crucial morale victory early in their bid to finish off South Africa.

His removal of Proteas captain Graeme Smith, caught for nought by Ponting facing his second ball, was a killer blow to any hopes South Africa had of winning here. It was also a major dent to their aspirations of a draw. When Peter Siddle bowled the other opener, Alviro Petersen, for 24, the foot on was the world No1's throat.

Their advantage had been set up in the morning by Hussey's mature and important 54, Clarke's 38 and late-order mischief from James Pattinson, who is unable to bowl the rest of the summer but said farewell to the season with 29 not out with the bat, giving him an average of 71 for the match. Hilfenhaus's 18 from 19 was also nuisance value, and Clarke declared, at 8-267, just after poor leg-spinner Imran Tahir and with match figures 0-280 clocked up the worst return by a bowler in Test history.

"Obviously there is going to have to be some sort of support for him because he's had a tough couple of days in Test cricket," Proteas assistant coach Russell Domingo said of a downcast Tahir.

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