ADELAIDE (Reuters) - Faf du Plessis's gallant 78 helped South Africa avoid the follow-on on day three of the second test on Saturday, but the 28-year-old all-rounder admitted a nervous stumble on the stairs nearly put paid to his test debut at the crease.
Du Plessis had already shown an endearing penchant for slapstick when he made a horrible mess of a catch on Friday, spilling a simple chance at backward point.
"I was very nervous before I went out. Probably the more nervous I've been was making my one-day debut, for the first time playing for South Africa," Du Plessis told reporters.
"Then I had an absolute shocker going down the stairs. My boot clipped one of the stairs and my whole foot came out. I had to kneel in front of the whole crowd there, while they were abusing me from both sides.
"And my shoelaces were tied and my pad was in the way, so I couldn't get my foot back in. So I was thinking, 'I'm going to get timed out here.'
"My foot slipped in three-quarters of the way, and I thought I'm just going to have run on like this and I'll sort it out when I get there.
"When I got in, I thought, it can't go worse than that."
After a superb knock including 13 fours and a six, Du Plessis was eventually dismissed by a sharp catch from Australia captain Michael Clarke, bringing South Africa's innings to a close at 388.
Although the tourists still trailed by 162 runs, the crowd was more subdued as he strode back to the change rooms.
"Yeah, they were much, much better," said Du Plessis, who enjoyed a 93-run partnership with injured veteran Jacques Kallis to ensure Australia would bat again.
South Africa's pacemen rattled through Australia's top order after tea to leave the hosts 111-5 at the close of the day, with a lead of 273 runs.
Clarke and Mike Hussey, who torched the hosts with a 272-run partnership on day one, will resume for Australia on day four at Adelaide Oval, where the greatest successful run chase was 315 runs, by England in 1901-02.
Du Plessis said the South Africans were buoyed at having a sniff at an unlikely victory and early wickets would be key on Sunday with the pitch likely to deteriorate further.
"We are still managing to break through that top order which is a massive positive sign," he said.
"Now we've just got to work out how to get these two out because they can occupy the crease, Hussey and Clarke."
(Editing by Alastair Himmer)