Australia were bowled out for their lowest total against South Africa as 23 wickets fell on an enthralling second day in the first Test at Cape Town.
Australia spectacularly crumbled to be all out for 47 in their second innings and, somehow, hand the initiative back to South Africa after the hosts had themselves been skittled for 96 earlier in the day.
The Proteas were then on course to take full advantage of their reprieve, reaching stumps at 81-1 as they pursued a victory target of 236.
On a day when a number of unwanted batting records were broken, Australia’s collapse was the most significant as they only narrowly avoided the lowest-ever Test total.
Michael Clarke’s side had to rely on last pair Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon to ensure they avoided the mark, held by New Zealand when they managed 26 against England in 1954-55.
Debutant Vernon Philander was the destroyer-in-chief with 5-15 while last man Lyon top-scored for Australia with 14 as their innings lasted just 18 overs.
It was a remarkable turnaround immediately after South Africa had themselves hit the self-destruct button.
The hosts recorded their lowest total against Australia since 1932 and only passed the follow-on total thanks to their last pair of Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir.
Shane Watson had seemingly earned Australia an impregnable position at that point, when he claimed five wickets in 21 balls after lunch, to rip through South Africa.
But from there Australia imploded.
Watson was trapped lbw by Steyn from the third ball of the innings – although replays suggested he should have reviewed it – before Ricky Ponting went the same way despite using the TV replay to become Philander’s first wicket.
Phil Hughes then departed from the final ball before tea, caught at third slip, and when they resumed the Australian collapse really took hold.
Michael Hussey fell first ball after the interval, slashing Morne Morkel to gully, before Philander claimed the crucial wicket of Clarke – whose 151 in the first innings has since been made to look even more remarkable – to yet another reviewed lbw decision.
The wickets continued to tumble, with the situation clearly getting to Brad Haddin when he edged behind after advancing down the wicket, as Australia slumped to 21-9.
At that point the lowest ever score looked likely but Siddle and Lyon saved some of their side’s blushes before the spinner was last man out caught by AB de Villiers off Steyn.
South Africa’s earlier collapse had followed a similar path with Watson, who was at one stage on a hat-trick, wrecking their batting after they had reached 49-1.
Ryan Harris also chimed in with 4-33 as South Africa limped past the follow-on thanks to Steyn and Tahir – which proved crucial as Australia’s collapse unfolded.
Even when Australia were dismissed for 47 they still looked well placed to win the game with South Africa needing 236 on the seaming Newlands wicket. But Proteas skipper Graeme Smith made sure his side steadied with an unbeaten 36.
Former Yorkshire batsman Jacques Rudolph was the only man out, caught by wicketkeeper Haddin off Siddle, although the drama continued until the final ball when Hashim Amla was dropped by Hussey at gully.
That meant the day finished with 23 wickets falling – the most since Australia met England at Melbourne way back in 1902.
Afterwards, Clarke was highly critical of his top order, but remained optimistic a victory was still possible with South Africa needing needing the second-highest successful chase at Newlands to secure victory
“All I can say is the top seven of us, as a batting unit, have to take responsibility for what just occurred,” said Clarke. “It’s certainly not good enough and me as the leader, especially after coming off a good first-innings total, certainly need to take the blame.
“Our shot selection was disgraceful. I can make a million excuses, but the facts are we should not have been all out for 47.
“But, if we can bowl well tomorrow morning we do have enough runs on the board to win this Test match.”