ADELAIDE Graeme Smith struck a defiant century in response to Australia's massive first innings total, but the hosts grabbed a pair of wickets after tea to restrict South Africa to 217 for two at the close of the second day of the second test.
With Australia's bowlers toiling fruitlessly on a flat deck at Adelaide Oval during the heat of the day, the South Africa skipper nudged his team steadily forward to give them hope of getting close to the home side's imposing score of 550.
"He's a fantastic leader and we've seen it again today," paceman Morne Morkel told reporters after Smith strode off the ground unbeaten on 111, with Jacques Rudolph on 25.
"We needed a guy up front to be solid and he's still there.
"We always know that day three is the moving day and an important day for us as a unit, so coming here tomorrow there's going to be 11 very hungry South Africans taking the field."
Smith's 26th century capped a remarkable turnaround for South Africa after they were torched for 482 runs on day one by home captain Michael Clarke and the Australian batsmen.
Morkel led a much improved performance by South Africa's bowlers, capturing the prized wicket of Clarke for 230 among three in the morning to finish with a five-wicket haul.
The hosts were dismissed shortly before lunch, with their last five wickets managing to add just 68 runs.
Smith's heroics were marred slightly by the cheap losses of opener Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla late in the day.
Resuming on 117-0 after tea, Petersen added 21 more runs with Smith but their promising partnership was ended by a poor run for a single and a sprightly 37-year-old in Mike Hussey.
After driving spinner Nathan Lyon to mid-on, Petersen swerved to avoid Smith down the pitch and was a few centimetres short of safety when Hussey swooped and threw down the stumps with a direct hit.
Australia were convinced they had their second wicket four overs later when Smith was given out caught behind on 78, but the decision was over-ruled after video review, leaving paceman James Pattinson biting his lip in frustration.
The reprieve was Smith's second after he survived a stumping chance on 46 when wicketkeeper Matthew Wade fumbled a Lyon delivery behind the stumps with the Proteas skipper well out of his ground.
Wade later made amends when Amla charged out of his crease against part-time leg-spinner David Warner, only to be beaten for flight and have the bails whipped off.
Smith marched resolutely forward and sliced Lyon to the fence to complete a morale-boosting and no-nonsense century, containing few of the fireworks displayed by Australia captain Michael Clarke and David Warner on day one.
Amla's dismissal for 11 brought in Rudolph, taking Jacques Kallis's fourth spot in the order to relieve the burly all-rounder, who suffered a hamstring strain when bowling on the opening day.
Rudolph survived the last over from Lyon, and he and Smith strode off with South Africa still 333 runs in arrears.
Deriving little joy from the pitch, Clarke gave his pacemen light workloads and tried every trick in the book, with a total of eight specialists and part-timers rolling their arm over in a bid to capture an elusive wicket.
"That's how Michael Clarke likes to captain," Hussey told reporters. "He goes with his gut a lot of the time and sometimes he throws in things from left field and it showed with Davey Warner's wicket that it can help pick up a wicket."
Australia face another trying day in the field with the temperature forecast to rise to a baking 35 degrees Celsius for day three on Saturday.
"With the hot day in store tomorrow we might see a bit more turn come out of the pitch and maybe some more variable up-and-down bounce as well," Hussey added.
"Tomorrow is a pretty big day I reckon in the test match. If we can bowl really well and restrict South Africa, then we're in a great position to push forward and try to win this test match." (Editing by John O'Brien)