Faf du Plessis helped South Africa salvage a draw in an epic debut, defying the Australian attack all day Monday to post his maiden test century.
Du Plessis defended resolutely and shared important partnerships with AB de Villiers (33) and Jacques Kallis (46) before guiding the South African tail-enders to 248-8 at stumps in a tense last hour of the second test at Adelaide.
Du Plessis batted for seven hours and faced 376 balls for his unbeaten 110, sprinkling 14 boundaries into a gritty defensive knock to ensure back-to-back draws between Australia and South Africa in a series for the first time since 1921.
In the end, a late two-wicket burst from Peter Siddle (4-54) — removing both Dale Steyn and Rory Kleinveldt for ducks — left it up to Morne Morkel (8 not out) to navigate the final over. Australia had plenty of runs on the board — having set South Africa an unlikely target of 430 — but ran out of time trying to get the last two wickets for victory.
Morkel hit two boundaries in the last over to deprive the injury-depleted Australian attack a victory that most people had expected coming into the final day.
"The story just makes it so much better, the fact it was so close," du Plessis said. "It's hard for a tailender coming in, and you know if you get out you're carrying the weight of a whole nation on your shoulders.
"Morne played it beautifully. He played two straight drives. I went up to him and said, 'Keep playing it straight,' and he said, 'Don't worry, I've got this!"
The 28-year-old du Plessis, given his test debut here after injured J.P. Duminey was ruled out of the series last week in Brisbane, made a well-compiled 78 in the first innings and proved his worth to the team with a valiant hundred in the second.
After resuming at 77-4, Du Plessis anchored an 89-run, fifth-wicket stand with de Villiers and 99 for the sixth with Kallis, who was batting with a hamstring injury that has prevented him from bowling or fielding since early on day one.
South Africa captain Graeme Smith thought at 45-4 late on the fourth day, "You know probably the writing is on the wall."
"But there was hope. Today I just wanted to see the guys show a bit of character," he said. "For me, it was incredible to see the guys who represented us out there today, the skill, determination and the pride they took in their performances. They represented us immensely, and a lot of people back home."
South Africa has batted defiantly on the last day to draw both tests so far in the series, something that fills Smith with confidence going into the third test in Perth starting Friday. South Africa needs only to avoid losing the series to retain the No. 1 test ranking. Australia needs to win to have any chance of supplanting them.
"We haven't been at our best but we still haven't been beaten, and that's a very rewarding feeling for us," Smith said. "It's really a strengthening point for us. We had another couple of big injuries in this test match that created a little bit of hassles for us and we still managed to scrap through after not being in great positions."
After no wickets fell in 35 overs in the first session, Siddle bowled de Villiers just after lunch to end his 220-ball innings — the longest without a boundary in test records. Kallis faced 110 balls before he fell to a bat-pad catch off Nathan Lyon (3-49), making the total 233-6 and exposing the South African tail.
Steyn miscued a low full toss from Siddle directly to Rob Quiney to make the total 234-7 with a half hour to play, and Kleinveldt was bowled right near the end.
Australia had been on top of the game since winning the toss, deciding to bat and amassing 550 in the first innings — including a whopping 482-5 on the opening day, a double century for Clarke and hundreds for David Warner and Mike Hussey.
South Africa was bowled out for 388, giving up a 162-run lead, and were set a victory target of 430 when Clarke declared midway through the penultimate day at 267-8.
Australia's push for a win started well with Ben Hilfenhaus removing Smith (0) in the first over and Lyon picking up a pair to have the South Africans reeling at 45-4. That's when the stonewalling started.
The pitch didn't deteriorate as much as expected and the Australian attack was missing fast bowler James Pattinson, who damaged ribs while bowling in the first innings and has been sidelined for the rest of the southern summer.
Siddle and Hilfenhaus had to take up the extra load on the last day while Clarke rotated offspinner Lyon with the part-time bowlers searching for a wicket.
The Australians had some chances — du Plessis was given out twice for lbw to Clarke by umpire Billy Bowden but had the decisions overturned both times on review, then Matt Wade wasn't able to glove a sharp chance for a caught-behind off Hilfenhaus when he was standing up at the stumps in the over before the tea interval.
"Two more wickets would have been lovely," Clarke said. "Faf was outstanding. An amazing innings, let alone being on debut, so a lot of credit has to go to him."
"We go to Perth nil-all," he added. "We have to win that test match."
After having the better of both tests so far, Australia needs a win to have a shot at reclaiming top spot in test cricket.
"I think we can definitely take a lot of confidence where we sit after two test matches against the No. 1 team in the world," Clarke said. "I'm confident we'll be in a good place come day one in Perth."