An unbeaten century wasn’t as important as the five sessions and eight hours de Plessis occupied the crease for to save the game and earn himself man-of-the-match ahead of Australian captain Michael Clarke, who scored a double-century.

The Australians took the draw well, but frustrated they couldn’t capitalise on an excellent first four days, which saw the world number ones reeling four wickets down with a day to play.

With an hour to play, an out on his feet Peter Siddle kept charging in for Australia and knocked over Dale Steyn and Rory Kleinvelt with a cracking Yorker.

But bowler Morne Morkel, although ungainly, was effective with the bat and stood his ground. In his first Test, although admitting he was nervous throughout, du Plessis looked like he’d been there for years and finished 110 not out.

The Proteas were well short of the target set by the Australians, and were never a chance to win the game, but with only eight wickets down they celebrated as though it was a victory.

Australia were hurt by the absence of a bowler, injured James Pattinson, but captain Clarke said that shouldn’t take anything away from the visitor’s performance.

“We threw everything at the South Africans, they deserve a lot of credit, 145 overs, if you can’t bowl a side out in that amount of time it takes a lot of good batting,” he told ABC Radio’s Grandstand.

Australian coach Mickey Arthur said it was a day for the Test purists.

“For the purist and the neutral out there, it was as good a day of Test cricket as you would ever wish to see,” he told Grandstand.

“(You had) the highs and lows, the adrenaline pumps, the boys trying and trying their guts out and you had one guy who’s played a really good innings.

“You’ve got everything there in a perfect day’s cricket.”

If Australia can win the third and final Test in Perth starting late Thursday night (London time), they can claim the world number one spot.

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