Australia v South Africa – Adelaide Test, Day 4: Phoenix or dead cat?

South Africa resuming 2nd innings 6/194 (SC Cook 81*, Q de Kock 0*), 70 runs ahead.

 

Telling Saturday night interventions from Nathan Lyon and Mitch Starc saw South Africa precariously poised as Day 4 began. Incumbent batsmen Cook and de Kock carried their team’s hopes of batting long enough to force Australia’s innings substantially into the trickier night conditions. Those hopes were dashed after just a few overs as de Kock contrived to miss a dead-straight Jackson Bird loosener. Umpire Nigel Llong must have been as shocked as de Kock:  Australia required a review to complete the dismissal.

 

This set the tone for the remainder of South Africa’s resistance; wickets fell to largely innocuous deliveries. Once Starc and Hazlewood took the second new pinky, Philander soon missed a Starc inswinger, and Rabada gloved an attempted pull off Hazlewood to the keeper. Left with only debutant Tabraiz Shamsi’s rustic batting stylings for support, Cook offered an indeterminate defensive stroke to Starc and promptly lost his off stump.

 

Stephen Cook’s 104 was a triumph of dogged determination over style. Through the course of this series, he has looked the least convincing of South Africa’s top order batsmen by a comfortable margin. Crabbing footwork along the batting crease, and a tendency to hang the bat well away from his body outside off stump, have left Cook looking vulnerable at all times. He hardly looked much sturdier through most of his six hour occupation here, but scored effectively off his pads, wasn’t unduly disturbed by plays-and-misses, and variously nudged, nicked and nurgled the ball to other parts, sufficient to bring up his three figures. In conditions where batsmen have generally had to curb their stroke play to prosper, Cook likely required less adjustment than most.

 

Set only 127 for victory, with plenty of daylight time at their disposal, Australia needed only to avoid early collapse to secure the win. Kyle Abbott was unable to resume the same strangling control he’d shown on Day 2, allowing David Warner to set off at a run a ball. As Warner made swift inroads into the required total, Matt Renshaw continued on as he began in the first innings: leaving judiciously outside off stump, appearing unflappable when beaten, and content to wait until the ball was on his pads before looking to score.

 

Together, they’d knocked off half the target before Warner again pursued the dubious tactic of attempting a quick single to Temba Bavuma. Renshaw was unpersuaded by the call, and the inevitable confusion saw Warner run out by yards. An untidy departure, but Warner’s crisply scored 47 has seen Australia to relatively safe waters.

 

A few Australian dressing room qualms were no doubt raised when Khawaja departed LBW to Shamsi second ball. Having expended so much mental effort in the first dig, Khawaja could be excused the let down here. At 2-64, South Africa’s reaction didn’t suggest they fancied themselves much of a chance.

 

Steve Smith was certainly in no mood to entertain any further nonsense. With Renshaw entrenched at the other end, and the visitors unable to mount any sustained hostility, Smith made efficient work of most of the remaining runs. His chagrin at nicking one on the cusp of victory would have been quickly forgotten as newcomers Handscomb and Renshaw completed the honours.

 

Renshaw had seen his side home, unbeaten on 34, having seen off 137 deliveries, to go with the 46 he faced in the first innings. Having set himself to occupy the crease in this game, he made a significant contribution to ensuring his team’s victory. While his initial front foot movement closes off his body position, suggesting a technique still consolidating, his revealed temperament and patience are formidable qualities in a 20 year-old. It would surprise greatly if he wasn’t persisted with. The same should apply for his fellow debutants.

 

So Adelaide’s second day-night test saw Australia regain some badly needed equilibrium after the debacle that was Hobart. Given the tumult since then, all in the Australian dressing room deserve credit for rebounding. Pride was no doubt at stake. But the nature of this contest reinforced how badly Australia had fallen short previously. These were two sides that should have been evenly matched.

 

South Africa would have come to these shores regarding themselves as a team in some transition. Their recent test form had hardly been overwhelming. Missing AB de Villiers, and soon Dale Steyn, impressive youngsters de Kock and Rabada were required to fill the void. They did so most impressively. Journeymen openers Cook and Elgar both contributed a century, but not much else. JP Duminy scored a vital Perth ton, but failed to follow up. Hashim Amla was well below his best, which placed even more pressure on Faf du Plessis. Philander and Abbott lack the pace of many of their predecessors, but their movement and control accounted for an Australian team that only found resolve in this game. Overall, they will be delighted with the series win, but know they will have some significant holes to fill in the not too distant future.

 

The larger challenge for Australia will be to understand the real significance of this win. Dead rubber victories should usually be treated sceptically, but in the context of the drastic team overhaul post-Hobart, some promise is at least visible, if not confirmed. But the off field issues, which have significantly undermined on field performance, remained unaffected by team changes. For reasons only known to administrators, Australia now play three 50 over games against New Zealand, before assembling to play another day-night test against Pakistan, in Brisbane, on December 15th. It will be interesting to see if any momentum gained in Adelaide can carry through to Brisbane. This only reinforces the utter nonsense that is this summer’s international schedule.

 

It remains to be seen if the influx of youth to Australia’s batting order is an actual plan, or just a short term reaction. It also remains to be seen who will be making that larger selection determination beyond this season. Much now appears in flux. At least in this test, Usman Khawaja confirmed that he, along with Warner and Smith, will provide a nucleus around which those youngsters can hopefully build a batting line up. Nathan Lyon’s return to form and confidence (they seem inextricably linked with him) is also vital, as Starc and Hazlewood are currently carrying too much of the bowling burden.

 

Australia can look to the Pakistan series with more expectation than looked likely a week ago. But the fate of this team, and those in the Sheffield Shield who might hope to replace them, are still significantly at the mercy of the conditions and schedules bequeathed by administrators. Until Cricket Australia seriously addresses the need for a better balance between cricket’s commercial and playing needs, many of the problems of this summer will inevitably recur. We won’t know if any progress has been made in that regard until we see next summer’s fixture.

 

South Africa 9/259d & 250 v Australia 383 & 3/127: Australia won by 7 wickets

 

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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World’s Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Great description of Cook’s century John. The sort of effective run making South Africa did a sufficient amount of in this series. Particularly given Amla and Duminy are out of form and, having now seen Elgar and Bavuma bat in the flesh, I’m not convinced they’re long term Test players. As you suggest, the schedule is a dog’s breakfast. Do sports administrators even do that anymore or do they just hand a blank piece of paper to the TV broadcasters?

  2. John Butler says:

    Sufficient is an excellent word for the South Africans in general, Dave.

    Given Australia didn’t ask much of them for 2 tests, they were comfortably up to the task required.

    But I don’t think they really match up to the teams that previously won here. Which puts Australia in some perspective.

    No one understands the fixture., Once the Big Bash is locked in, they don’t seem to care much.

  3. Now that the annoying Tests are over I can’t wait for the 20/20s!!

    Not.

    Solid finish by the Aussies but still plenty to do. This batting line-up would be regularly skittled in England. To me that’s the only measure of our cricket team; the ability or otherwise to beat the Poms. But the fight shown was good. Handscomb looked the most accomplished. Add Pattinson and Cummins to the bowling (yes, I know they are starting to call Pat Cummins Santa Claus because there is a suspicion he is not real), and we’re looking OK on that front.

  4. John Butler says:

    Does anyone know what has been going on with Pat Cummins?

    Saw him in the Matador Cup. Then not sighted in any Shield games. Now picked in the One Day squad for the meaningless games against NZ.

    Are we to set our watches for his breakdown during BBL?

    Who is running his rehab?

  5. Thanks for the report, JB.
    The batting is still brittle, but in Starc and Hazlewood we have a once-in-a-generation opening duo. They will need to be carefully managed.

    Can’t for the life of me understand how Pat Cummins can be picked for the national team despite not having played a Shield match. He is good. But he is not D K Lillee incarnate.

  6. John Butler says:

    Especially as Hastings is left out for the old ‘not enough cricket’ excuse.

    If you want a measure of modern cricket ineptness, I suspect an in depth case study of Cummins’ rehabilitation would be a good place to start.

  7. How in the hell do you commission to do a report on the state of the game and it recommends that every one plays a heap of Shield cricket before the test matches and ignore it and now play some more meaningless one dayers before the next series of test cricket while the summer holidays are dedicated to the big bash mind boggling incompetency to say the least thanks,JB

  8. John Butler says:

    G’day Rulebook,

    A very pertinent question. As were many others in your recent piece.

    The only sense I can make of it is they’ve been so focused on the BBL that they’ve been happy to sacrifice every thing else (whilst paying then lip service). As usual, the inevitable crisis reoccurs, and everybody switches to panic mode once more.

    You could call it management, of a sort, I suppose. Other words might also apply.

  9. Well played JB.
    It’s incompetence of a sort, I guess.
    But the escape clause (teflon coating) is – that it depends on how success is measured.
    What is success?
    What can it be measured?
    A laborious Test match ranking can be measured.
    Crowds at games can be measured.
    TV ratings can be measured.
    So I guess that, as audiences and eyeballs keep rolling in to BBL through Dec-January, “management” of Australian cricket will be very happy with itself. Maybe even give itself a raise.
    Trevails of Test match preparation will be swept aside.
    Just as the Test team itself is likely to be in India next February-March.
    Which can then be blamed/ excused on the basis of unfamiliar pitches.
    And around we go…

  10. John Butler says:

    E Reg, if your sport dies, but the funeral rates really well, could that be considered a success?

  11. John do you want to name which BBL match Cummins breaks down? One wonders if he;’s ever going to double his test tally. Ditto re Pattinson, plays one series, misses three, four, five, name a figure. Where do these two sit in the pecking order with chaps like Boland, 12th man twice for Australia,, Sayers 12th man once,, Mennie one test, plus a chap like Tremain all in the mix?

    Khawaja ton in the first innings, but coming out to face the spinners in dig two a blob. We saw he did not fare well in Sri Lanka, thus do we go horses for courses in India,leaving him back in Australia ?

    Shaun Marsh must be in the mix for India, he plays spin well, but after that ? He’s no younger, nor has been a bloke you can build a team around. We blooded three new batsmen in Adelaide, there’s chaps like Paterson, Stonis, Weatherall and Head out there getting a few runs,, Shaun Marsh might be nearing the end of his career.

    Anyhow there’s an important three match ODI series on the way,with the BBL not too far away. Let’s put the test talk to bed for a while whilst ,settling back into the pyjama cricket.

    Glen!
    ,

  12. John Butler says:

    G’day Glen,

    Sadly, you feel like you could set your watch for the next Cummins breakdown. The great pity is, if we’d had access to Cummins, Pattinson, Starc and Hazlewood with reasonable consistency,, that could have been one of the great Australian bowling lineups. Probably won’t ever happen now.

    Yes, Khawaja has a poor record starting an innings against spin. Do you reckon Graham Hick could help him with that?

    You wouldn’t want to bet against S Marsh for India. Unless there really has been a selection sea-change.

    Cheers

  13. Luke Reynolds says:

    Spot on with your observations on this South African team John. I really think the 1993/94 South Africans, as well as the 2001/02 team would beat the team that toured here this year. Which shows where Australia is at. Handscomb is a fantastic talent. Stick with Renshaw. Not so sure about Maddinson.

  14. John Butler says:

    G’day Luke,

    Maddinson was the one of the three picked on potential rather than form. I suppose we’ll see if that does him any favours in the longer term.

    Is anyone really sold on Wade as the best keeping option? At least his work up to the stumps was ok this test.

    If Sayers doesn’t play in Adelaide, do you pick him elsewhere?

    A lot still to be settled, despite the win.

  15. Ta John.

    G Hick may have more aptitude of dealing with spinners than the pace men.

    I’ll be shocked if S Marsh does not go to India! He has a good track record on turning pitches so i imagine he’ll play a role in the forthcoming series.

    Glen!

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