Australia eats spinach for breakfast; SA has rocket salad for lunch

Cricket: 2nd Test: RSA v Aust, Wanderers, Joh’burg, Day 2, Friday 18 November 2011: South Africa (266 & 0/0) versus Australia (296)

Australia’s evaporation at Newlands masked the fact that most ofSouth Africa’s Test cricketers have not yet woken up in this mini-series. Had either Hussey or Watson held the chances given early by Amla inSouth Africa’s victory march,Australiamay well have won atCape Town, despite themselves.

On the first day at the Wanderers, many South African batsmen, having rapidly smoothed up to top gear, then drove through red lights – and the team carried this negligence into the field on Day 2. The clean white pitch and ice-rink outfield demanded a careful line and length against batsman prepared to wait, but with the exception of admirable newbie Philander, this application wasn’t evident from their bowlers in the extended pre-lunch session. ForAustralia, Hughes was clearly willing himself to play through the V and either leave or properly cover balls outside his off stump, early-on at least. Watson’s hamstring seemed untroubled when he moved to the front foot, and Steyn – noticeably 8 to 10 clicks slower than at Newlands – was unable to test him on the back foot.

After a cautious 13 runs were accrued over the first six overs, Watson pulled Steyn for six forward of square leg to start the seventh, and 13 more boundaries peeled 65 runs off the 11 overs remaining to the first drinks break. Nearing the hour, the question of introducing Imran Tahir’s leg-spin should have occurred to Smith. If it did, his answer was (being a South African captain)… Kallis, from whose first two overs 17 runs flowed from increasingly free strokes.

That Morkel had Hughes dropped by the normally adhesive Amla at short backward square merely spotlighted the home team’s somnolence – and when play resumed after drinks, the Proteas missed another trick by not referring a catch at the wicket when Hughes inside-edged Kallis via his pad flap. The openers’ century partnership arrived in just 21 overs, 80 per cent of the total from boundaries.

Tahir, who might profitably have entered the attack when around 60 had been posted, finally arrived when that score had doubled: ripe for the carting. And Watson promptly heaved a maximum over mid-wicket. Tahir’s problems were then compounded by Billy ‘Regardez Moi’ Bowden officially warning him for following through onto the danger zone. The resultant hesitant full tosses were caned accordingly. The openers raised 169 by lunch, having reducedSouth Africa’s lead to double figures. Philander alone of the five bowlers had coughed up less than 5’s per over.

Just 104 overs into the match, the contest appeared dead, withAustraliagalloping to victory – replicating the situation eight days earlier inCape Town.

And, as at Newlands, things then changed. Not as drastically (how could they?), but still perceptibly, as the Protean bowlers narrowed their length and trimmed their width to dry up the charging openers. The run-rate dropped from five to two. Then Philander deservedly had Hughes taken in the slips, and Kallis, having chucked pies before lunch, now launched a hand-grenade that grazed Watson’s nose. Two balls later, Watson’s counter-attacking hook was sensationally held on the square-leg boundary by South Africa’s weakest fielding link, Tahir. Like Hughes before him, Watson had rounded the black buoy of 87, only to hit a reef exactly one run later. This was Watson 16th Test score between 50 and 99, set alongside his two centuries.

Within five balls, the talismanic Steyn was back in business, and Ponting (LBW: 0) may very soon be out of it for good. At last, the steep sides of the Wanderers Bullring had some noise to amplify and nerves to jangle. One thing still favouringAustralia, though, was the continued presence of the left-handed Khawaja (low grip, overlarge helmet and grill notwithstanding), forcing the bowlers to readjust their lines. With Clarke riding his Newlands form and Philander and Kallis temporarily leaving the arena for treatment, this pair appeared to steady things. But a loose fence at Morkel cost Clarke his wicket and leftAustraliano better placed at the tea break than their opponents had been 24 hours before.

Two glorious late-curling bolts from Steyn, switched to theCorlett Driveend, soon did for both Khawaja and Hussey upon resumption. When flowing, Steyn brings to mind the recently opened Gautrain that flashes past both the Wanderers andCenturionParkup the road towardsPretoria.

After some characteristically insouciant flashes and a ritual tough-guy challenge of his decision, Haddin was trapped by the returning Tahir’s top-spinner. Feeling at last a part of things, SA’s leggie immediately ripped a wrong’un into Siddle’s castle, andAustralia’s innings was subsiding on parallel lines to their opponents. But before Steyn and Tahir each added one more, Johnson marshalled Cummins and Lyon to strike a purposeful 38 not out that gainedAustraliaa lead of 30.

That may not be enough. On a ground synonymous with catching records and fast bowling, seven wickets have already fallen to spinners in the first two days and there were notably few catches inAustralia’s innings, nearly all of them from flashy or meaty shots. Dead-bat edges dropped short of the cordon. Watch out for more LBs, shooters and bat-pad shouts as this game proceeds. Batting last will be tough.

After a day of steamy sunshine,Johannesburg’s thunder clouds arrived on cue at the change of innings around 5.20pm. Smith survived four balls from Johnson from which he could have gained little and lost much before the umpires preserved the balance of the contest by calling play off.

About Tony Roberts

Favourites list: Food: whatever I cook; Drink: whatever my doctor allows; Music: refer 'Soul Time' (pres. Vince 'The Prince' Peach 3PBS-FM, plus Soul Au Go Go at The Laundry, first Saturday each month); Movie: love that Cinema Nova discount card!; TV show: call me Don Draper, if you like (or David Brent, if not); Footy teams: Melbourne Victory (summer), Coolangatta, AFLQ (hols), Brisbane Lions (forever), Western Bulldogs (for now); Player: refer 2009 Footy Almanac Round 18 (WB V Freo); Pet: Ferdy (JRT - as per previous reference)

Comments

  1. Tony

    Day 2 was another opportunity missed. At 0/170, surely a score of 400+ is there for
    the taking…and the chance to bat S Africa out of the Test. Can none of these batsmen
    dig in for the long haul?

    I have never rated G Smith’s captaincy, and his leadership in this series has done nothing
    to alter my opinion. I actually thought M Clarke’s captaincy in the field was one of the
    reasons Australia fought back on Day 1.

  2. Dave Goodwin says:

    Prompted by Flynny’s point on Day One about Mitchell Johnson’s rapidly escalating Test bowling average, I just took a look at the stats for worst ever Test economy rates. Of bowlers to have bowled over 2000 balls in Tests, it looks as though in this series Johnson will go past Andy Bichel to be the second most profligate Australian ever (he’s now nudging 3.36 per over). The Clubhouse leader? Brett Lee – 310 Test wickets, conceding 3.46 per over. That’s absolutely terrible – it seems Lee has set a standard for this generation. I’m still cringing at the thought of his bowling in that Sydney test against India about 7 years ago. Wide, full, square driven to the fence. Sehwag’s dreams came true. Got away with that because of the batting in the side at the time. No such luxury now. I wonder what Bich’s thoughts are on fast bowling economy rates now he’s a selector? Did that come up in the interviewing process? Bert Ironmonger leads this list – 74 wickets in 14 Tests with an economy rate of 1.69 (and an average of 18) and an honourable mention to the admirable Slasher Mackay – 37 Tests, 50 wickets, conceding 1.78 per over. Lest we forget.

  3. John Butler says:

    Nice work Tony

    Dave, there appears to be little focus on economy apart from the debutant Cummins. It was noticeable last summer as well.

    Fits the lack of restraint in much of the batting.

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