Australia 85 (Smith 48*, Philander 5-21, Abbott 3-41) vs South Africa 5 for 171 (Amla 47, Starc 3-49)
I’d been looking forward to this fixture for months. But there’s always that tremor of trepidation when you see they’ve again scheduled a Test for Hobart in November, when it’s well known the island presents its best weather face in late summer and early autumn. Resigned to the fact there are far greater fixturing forces at work than the mere probability of a full day’s play, all you can do is pray. To no avail, it seemed, indeed for a while there it appeared Cricket Tasmania must have greatly offended the Almighty, such was the precision of the forecast rain arrival coincidence with the first session.
As it happened the prayers were answered, the weather system slowed down, and other than a brief shower interruption early on, a full day’s play was had. And how full it turned out to be. Right from the start the ‘wickets’ column was giving ‘runs’ a, er, run for its money, especially in the bowling figures. Warner was out in the first over chasing a wide one with the sort of shot that, in context, would have the head of any other opening batsman called for. From there on the South African bowlers were simply too good. The floodgates were opened to a torrent of lbws and nicks behind the wicket. The only interruptions to this were Philander’s departure before lunch, after his shoulder was inadvertently collected by Smith mid-run (he later returned apparently unscathed, to further deadly effect); and the run out of debutant Callum Ferguson. He fell victim to a brilliant direct hit throw from backward point by substitute fieldsman Vilas, trying to get back for two after an initial misfield.
When Australia slumped to 5-21, the uncomfortable realisation set in that we’d seen half the first innings, when at the outset we’d have settled for a fraction of that. But things were only just getting started. Australia’s lower order offered little resistance, not even sufficient to see Steve Smith through to a half century having come in at no. 4. Smith appeared completely untroubled in compiling 48, seemingly playing in a different match to the rest of Australia’s batsmen.
The suspicion that it’s simply the Australians’ defence not being up to snuff tended to be confirmed by the way South Africa got started. Some may point to the rub of the green going the Proteas’ way, as their edges flew along the ground towards the boundary instead of to hand as they had for the Australians, but on the whole South Africa’s almost exact doubling of Australia’s total with five wickets still in hand at the end of day 1 was both well accumulated and well deserved. We left at tea due to Miss 11 having another engagement, so missed the home side’s brief revival beginning the evening session, but on TV Bavuma and de Kock were looking pretty comfortable.
As I write, late on Saturday evening, the promised rain is finally arriving, the radar showing plenty incoming behind the initial front. Australia will be hoping the temperate cyclonic system not only slows further but stops completely and dumps something of Noachian proportions. Even that prolonged lowering of the barometer won’t be sufficient to alleviate the pressure on most of them, though.