Australia were hit with a five-run penalty on the final day of the third cricket Test at the SCG after a rarely-seen indiscretion. The Aussies were chasing 14 wickets on day five for an improbable victory in the series finale after South Africa resumed on 6-149.
Australia were desperate to bowl South Africa out for less than 275, which would allow them to enforce the follow-on and send the tourists straight back in to bat again. But tail-enders Simon Harmer and Keshav Maharaj combined to frustrate the Aussies as they put on a partnership that passed 70 just before lunch.
The Aussies missed a number of difficult chances and only managed to claim one wicket in the morning session. And the frustrations were only intensified when they were hit with a rare five-run penalty.
Travis Head managed to get Harmer to play and miss at a delivery outside off stump, but the ball also evaded wicket-keeper Alex Carey. Unfortunately for the Aussies the ball cannoned straight into a helmet that had been left a few metres behind the keeper.
The practice of leaving a spare helmet on the ground is fairly common in Test cricket, with fielders coming and going close to the stumps. But the penalty for allowing the ball to hit the helmet is five runs onto the batting team's score.
It proved a costly mistake for the Aussies as South Africa edged closer to avoiding the follow-on. Getting past 275 would mean the Proteas could force Australia to bat again, which would eat into the time and overs available for the hosts to bowl South Africa out twice.
Fortunately for Australia they managed to bowl the tourists out for 255, allowing them to bowl again straight away. It gave them 48 overs to take the remaining 10 wickets.
Head had earlier claimed a key breakthrough for Australia, getting Kyle Verreynne caught behind for 11. But that was all the joy the Aussies had on Sunday morning as Head, Carey and Marnus Labuschagne all failed to grasp tricky catches.
Wet weather works against Aussies in SCG Test
With plenty of experience chasing final day wickets at the SCG, Josh Hazlewood earlier said the Aussies were confident of achieving the improbable. Last year during the Ashes they needed 10 wickets on the fifth day against England and fell one short. They also needed eight wickets against India in 2021 but could only manage three.
"If we were going out needing seven, eight or nine wickets, we would be very confident," Hazlewood said on Saturday evening. "The wicket against India was totally different. It had long grass all through it, and that here keeps it together so much. (This) wicket after a bit of traffic down, it looked quite nice with Gazza (Nathan Lyon) bowling into that rough."
Hazlewood said the Aussie bowlers would push themselves to the limit given they don't play another Test match until next month's tour of India. Working against the Aussies was the fact the SCG pitch hadn't broken up as much as they'd anticipated, with over 100 overs lost due to wet weather.
Australia picked Ashton Agar as a second spinning option alongside Nathan Lyon, but day three was a complete washout, leading to less wear and tear on the pitch.
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