Second Test – Day 1: Saffas capitulate amongst the scaffolding

Cricket Australia has moved a very long distance from the outfit that refused to sell television rights to Kerry Packer back in the ‘70’s: farther even than the cultural journey from Lillee’s chest hair to Watto’s man scaping. So focused are the game’s current comptrollers on the looming season of Big Bash, and the part they hope it will play in escalating pending television rights, that all other aspects of this summer seem very much consigned to an undercard.

As a result, the supposed highlight in pure cricket terms –  a nominal battle for number one ranking no less – arrived relatively unheralded before spring had fully emerged from the hangover of footballing winter. Extenuating circumstances have, of course, contributed. South Africa’s desire to be home for Christmas consigned this series to early November. Then a Saturday washout in Brisbane hurt attendance and stalled match momentum.

Despite the quality of some of the batting, the overall impression left from the First Test was of two teams under rehearsed for the occasion due to extraneous distractions. Key players from both teams seemed short of a gallop. Michael Clarke’s tactics and Australia’s bowling lacked last summer’s clear intent on Day 1. South Africa, first by selecting four seamers, then by batting first, seemed confused in their initial approach to the game. As they’ve done in the past, they then hesitated to attack from a position of strength from Day 2 onwards.

Having begun so early, once the match ended both sides had ten days to cool their heels before Adelaide. I remain unconvinced that modern cricket fixturing is anything more than a slapdash attempt to reconcile multiple irreconcilable agendas. It was hard to tell if South Africa’s decision to disperse for R&R during the break reflected a waning focus, or just the difficulty of managing the modern tour schedules administrators bequeath. Perhaps it was both?

So we move to what is left of the Adelaide Oval. There is no clearer indication of the current sporting pecking order than the site of Australia’s (the world’s?)most picturesque test cricket ground being rebuilt as a football stadium. What the football fan will relish the cricket fan may regret.

Whatever was happening to the stands, the wicket appeared unchanged – it looked like another Adelaide belter. Losing Philander pre match, South Africa then lost the toss. With Australia inevitably batting, they soon lost the early jousts. David Warner began as tentatively as he played in Brisbane but quickly prospered on a diet of lacklustre line and length. Australia scored at better than 4 an over for the first 10.

It was only when the ball was tossed to Jacques Kallis that things changed. Ed Cowan had been subdued but untroubled until Kallis got a full delivery to swing into him. Caught flush on the toe, Cowan was plumb, but the ball also happened to rebound via the middle of the bat back to Kallis on the full. In Billy Bowden World that translated to out caught and bowled. 1/43.

The first Morkel delivery Rob Quiney was required to but bat to unfortunately found an edge to first slip. 2/44.

Ricky Ponting would have been grateful to Kallis for an opening delivery on the pads, allowing him to begin with a boundary. He was doubtless less grateful two balls later for the yorker which straightened to clip off stump. With no discernible footwork, Ponting could only lunge his hands in a too late attempt to adjust. This literally left him on his knees facing down the wicket. Comprehension seemed as elusive as the delivery. It was an undignified dismissal reminiscent of his twin disasters in the Hobart test last season.

At 3/55 Australia was in danger of wasting superb batting conditions, but the tourists couldn’t sustain the pressure. This was in no small part due to the loss of Kallis, who limped from the field halfway through his fourth over with figures of 2-19. By bowling to hit the stumps and managing to swing the ball he had set an example none of his team mates seemed capable of following. Dale Steyn briefly tried some short stuff to Michael Clarke, but South Africa again failed to reveal any sustained plan of attack, as they had similarly failed in Brisbane.

Clarke and Warner took things safely to lunch. With the score reading 3-102 off 25 overs, we thought we had seen a lively session. We hadn’t seen anything yet.

Leg spinner Imran Tahir bowled three rank full tosses in the opening over after lunch. This was the cue for 50 minutes of mayhem that will probably shape the match. To allow Tahir to swap ends, debutant du Plesis was given an over to roll out some leg spin. His first full bunger disappeared into the scaffolding. As it turns out, an unconvincing appeal on the last ball of his over would have found Clarke LBW if it had been referred. Doubtless all involved had been persuaded by the previous five balls that this wasn’t even conceivable.

Losing all apparent sense in general, and any sense of line and length in particular, South Africa conceded 93 runs in 9 overs after lunch. In doing so they lost all control of the game.

Warner raced to a century off 93 balls. He powerfully and ruthlessly dealt with the many deliveries that strayed into his favoured hitting zones. As occurred during his pyrotechnic century against India last summer in Perth, you marvelled at the show whilst also being astonished at the amount of rotten old tripe his opposition served up to feast upon. Test cricket is just meant to be harder fought than this.

When Morkel and Kleinveldt finally managed to string a few reasonable overs together Warner soon enough edged to slip. With 119 scored off 112 balls Warner had again demonstrated the danger he presents while at the crease.

At 4-210 there was the semblance of a contest, but what transpired for the rest of the day was really just an ongoing massacre.  By tea Australia had scored 1-178 in the 26 over session since lunch. They scored a further 202 runs off 35.5 overs in the extended final session. Over the whole day they scored at 5.55 runs an over. Their 5-482 represents the most runs an Australian side has scored on day one of a test for 102 years. It was spectacular, historic, but it wasn’t much of a contest.

South Africa will point to the loss of Kallis as a turning point. Steyn also left the field for a period, and generally appeared to be labouring. But this was supposed to be the most potent pace attack in the world. In successive tests they’ve had Australia 3-for-not-many, but have otherwise lacked the nous and variety their reputations would lead you to expect. Their spinner copped one of the all-time historic maulings today. Tahir has a useful wrong-un, but can’t pitch his stock leggie with anywhere near the required control. He looked a broken man well before day’s end.

At some level, Michael Clarke must wonder if his last twelve months of batting isn’t some glorious hallucination. He had the talent to be picked for Australia as a young man, but eight previous years of test cricket had not really given much indication of the mental and physical stamina required to reel off a succession of huge scores such as he has. The transformation has been remarkable. Imperious seems a sadly inadequate word to describe his current form. Meanwhile, Mike Hussey has scored successive centuries whilst being thoroughly overshadowed.

South Africa will need to show formidable resilience to pick themselves up from here. They will be desperately hoping Kallis can bat in some meaningful fashion. They haven’t had much luck, but nor have their efforts to date really warranted much. They’ve dug themselves a giant crater. Now they must dig in if this series is to have much further meaning.

But first there remains the task of bowling Australia out. Having so far claimed 10/1047 in the series, this will seem a distant benchmark. At this rate they may even settle for getting Michael Clarke out. Just once.

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. JB – very fine summary of the day.

    But there was something about yesterday that didn’t sit well with me.Perhaps I am just grumpy with cricket, or perhaps I’m just grumpy.

    I don’t want to down play Clarke’s innings. 200, even against hacks in park cricket, is a monumental effort. But it did come aginst an attack that was 1 down for a good part of the day, and 2 down for a part of the day. Nevertheless the SA bowlers have been ordinary, except perhaps for Morkel.

    But I see a ground the size of a napkin, with a pitch as friendly to batsmen as any in the world, and bats as thick as a tree routinely blasting balls out of the ground, and bowlers trundling in with obvious soreness and leg injuries from too many 20/20 carnivals, and a game on the brink of a conclusion after one day.

    However, cricket has a habit of surprising.

  2. John Butler says:

    Dips, you touch on many pertinent issues there.

    Despite official protestations, I think test cricket is being treated as a poor relation presently. This is both by direct and indirect consequence of the decisions of administrators. The rise of T20 now means players have responsibility not just to state and country, but often 2 or 3 franchise teams.

    Juggling all of this is becoming increasingly unsustainable, yet those who run the game just keep chasing more dollars.

    For the 2nd summer in a row we look like having a highly ranked test side perform well below their capabilities. Australia aren’t that irresistible. Something else must be contributing.

  3. Good stuff, JB. You’ve steered clear of jingoism and pointed out that the day wasn’t much of a contest. What’s that old sporting adage: you can only play as well as the opposition lets you? Well, the so-called opposition, the so-called attack, let Clarke and Warner and Hussey do as they please. Clarke, of course, is in the form of his life.
    Dips, you mention tree-trunk bats: once upon a time a batsmen would block a ball and the ball might roll down to mid-off. Now it rockets to the boundary. Perhaps it’s time for the ball to be reconfigured somehow. Or for the bowlers to have a real fourth-stump to bowl at.

  4. Andrew Starkie says:

    whats wrong with manscaping?

  5. John Butler says:

    Vin, I remember my first proper bat. It would look like a toothpick now.

    Cricket has no real regulations on what a bat can weigh or how it is configured. Equipment is starting to become an issue rather like it is in golf.

  6. John Butler says:

    Nothing at all AS. :)

  7. Do players still knockt a bat “in” by putting in a stocking, hanging it from a clothes line, and hitting it repeatedly? Or do they simply unwrap it and go out and bat?

  8. Andrew Fithall says:

    Thanks JB

    I think the cricket’s poor planning was epitomised by having the first day of this test clash with the AFL national draft. Fortunately they had the good sense to ensure the cricket concluded before the real action began at 7.00pm.

    And to continue this frivolous digression, the Blues would be pleased to have picked up the younger Menzel. I see that in his first celebratory tweet, he had a spelling error. The boy has a future at the Blues.

    *quick check for spelling errors in this comment*

  9. John Butler says:

    Just hoping young Menzel’s knees are a little sturdier than his bro’s AF.

    Dips, you still should knock the best bats in. Though I suspect it, like many other antique customs, is a dwindling art. Maybe one for Dad.

  10. Barry Cruickshank in Swan Hill will still knock a new bat in for you for a small price. He’s a retired primary school principal and it gives him an excuse to retreat to the shed. Money well spent.

  11. John Butler says:

    I love the smell of linseed oil in the morning. It smells like… victory. (in my dreams at least).

  12. You’ve nailed it again JB. Love the Saffa coinage. First time I’ve heard it. I’ll always contribute it to you – even if it’s borrowed.

    No mention of Punter’s future? One more chance, surely?

    But the big thing is The Game. (It always is, eh?) You’ve raised a very interesting point – ‘For the 2nd summer in a row we look like having a highly ranked test side perform well below their capabilities’. Let me run this past the Panel: are test sides now only playing wholeheartedly for their country at home while they stack up the Big Bucks away?

  13. John Butler says:

    Can’t claim Saffa for myself TW. It would have many fathers if tested for paternity.

    For thoughts on Punter cf Andrew Starkie’s piece.

    I would be reluctant to suggest test cricketers weren’t giving their full effort (cricket doesn’t need any more such allegations), but I don’t think teams are able to regularly present in their best shape for the series that really matter. Too many conflicting demands.

    Money, as always nowadays, is corrupting values

  14. Ben Footner says:

    The only thing the SACA will regret once the ground is finished is not redeveloping it sooner.

    I have every confidence that the beauty of the Adelaide Oval will be preserved.

  15. John Butler says:

    I hope you’re right Ben.

  16. Jeff Dowsing says:

    Linseed oil & deep heat; you can have your Chanel No. 5 etc, these are the best smells on Earth.

    Your observation of Menzel’s spelling prowess reminded me of Brodie Grundy who today tweeted his excitement at being ‘apart’ of the Collingwood FC. Sad to see him go after one day!

    Nice cricket summary too btw JB.

  17. John Butler says:

    Don’t know if I agree on Deep Heat Jeff. Makes my eyes water.

    But thumbs up on linseed oil. Oiling the bat was always one of those pre season rituals that anticipated spring, cut grass and the smell of a new red cherry.

    Who says nostalgia ain’t what it used to be?

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