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Debut delight for du Plessis

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Debutant Francois du Plessis struck a superb unbeaten hundred as South Africa pulled off one of the most miraculous escapes in Test history to leave their three-match series with Australia level at 0-0.

The hosts headed into day five at the Adelaide Oval with victory - that would have boosted their bid to return to the summit of the five-day rankings with a series victory - seeming a near certainty.

Having lost four crucial top-order wickets last evening, South Africa needed to bat out the day with no hope of winning having chalked just 77 off a victory target of 430 - a task that seemed impossible.

Yet du Plessis, playing in place of the injured JP Duminy, had other ideas and delivered a quite incredible rearguard, facing 376 balls in 464 minutes for a remarkable 110.

The right-hander, who had struck a crucial 78 in the first innings, gained able support from AB de Villiers, who showed a defensive fortitude that contrasted with his usual fluency in compiling a 220-delivery 33.

Jacques Kallis, having picked up a hamstring strain on day one, also showed typical grit in making 46, while Dale Steyn, Rory Kleinveldt and Morne Morkel were able to use up crucial deliveries as the Proteas reached 248 for eight.

Francois du Plessis

Francois du Plessis celebrates striking a hundred that earned South Africa the unlikeliest of draws in the second Test against Australia at Adelaide

As a result, the series is beautifully poised heading into the third and final Test at Perth, which gets under way on Friday.

The morning was not without alarm for South Africa, with two successful lbw appeals against du Plessis off the part-time spin of Michael Clarke overturned via the Decision Review System.

The first was not out having pitched outside leg stump, while the second was shown on replay to have come off the face of du Plessis’ bat without touching the pad.

Umpire Billy Bowden got both wrong, but had a better moment just before lunch as Australia queried a not-out decision; on this occasion, with Du Plessis not offering a stroke, the delivery from Nathan Lyon was shown to be going over the top.

By that time, Australia had taken the new ball, and it came into play after lunch as Peter Siddle bowled de Villiers with on off-cutter that went through the batsman’s defences, ending the partnership at 89.

Kallis, whose injury was seemingly troubling him less than in the first innings, struck a four and was dropped early on, before settling into the attritional pattern.

The harder ball inevitably yielded more runs with du Plessis looking good in driving back-to-back boundaries off Siddle.

By tea, he and Kallis had added 78, though there was another scare in the last over before the break as the former was dropped by Matthew Wade, standing up to Ben Hilfenhaus.

Du Plessis survived a couple of hairy moments off Siddle at the start of the evening session, losing his balance when faced with a yorker and then edging just short of Ricky Ponting at second slip later in the same over, but held his nerve and was soon rewarded with his maiden century.

It arrived with a cover-drive off Hilfenhaus and made him only the fourth South African to post three figures on his Test debut.

The celebrations were cut short, though, as Kallis departed in the next over, inside-edging Lyon to Ed Cowan at short-leg.

Cowan put down a difficult chance offered by Steyn, off Siddle, but the paceman snared his man soon after, caught by a good low Rob Quiney catch at midwicket.

Kleinveldt hung around for six overs prior to becoming Siddle’s fourth victim, an inswinging yorker seeing off the number nine to leave South Africa eight down and facing a nervy final four overs.

But du Plessis and Morkel stood their ground and clinched a hard-earned draw for the Proteas, setting up a thrilling finale to what has thus far proved an excellent rubber.