Third Test – Day 1: Intelligent bowling/Lazy batting

I first saw Ricky Ponting play cricket in the summer of 1994-95. He was playing for Australia A (remember them?) against Australia in a World Series Cup Final.

By late 1995, Punter had made an auspicious Test debut against Sri Lanka and was well on the way to becoming Australia’s premier batsman. Fast forward 17 years and 167 Tests later, Punter is playing his farewell Test against South Africa at the WACA.

The hyperbole begins immediately as Mark Nicholas and Michael Slater keep waffling on about a world-wide audience for this ‘Grand Final’ between Australia and South Africa to decide who will be number one in the world. Slater and Healy make Bill Lawry sound insightful and entertaining. Listening to them for most of the day got me thinking about Gigs’ random number plates. In this case NFF (Not Fucking Funny).

Changes galore have been made to both sides as John Hastings makes his debut for Australia while the erratic Starc and Johnson get a recall along with ‘Glass’ Watson. South Africa includes Elgar and the magnificently monikered Vernon Philander. Graeme Smith wins the toss and the Proteas elect to bat, Smith reasoning that the wicket may quicken on the second and third day to enable Steyn and Morkel to let rip.

Starc and Hastings open the bowling and Starc looks dangerous from the outset. Umpire Kettleborough gives Petersen out LBW, but replays show that the ball was too high and down leg. Do we really need human umpires anymore? They have become little more than bellboys; they just seem to carry stuff and that’s about it. While it was a clear error, the technology is far too advantageous for the batsmen.

Hastings, a good ordinary toiler, does little to trouble Smith and Petersen. At around 123kph he is not nippy enough to force errors. Starc on the other hand is swinging the ball and putting doubts in the batsmen’s minds. Clarke brings on ‘Glass’. His first two overs are pedestrian, yet somehow he puts one on the spot and Smith nicks it to the Skipper. RSA 1-37.

The other Mitchell comes on to replace Starc and he is looking quick and accurate. If manic depression was a left arm bowler, Mitchell Johnson would be its cricketing personification. Luckily, Johnson is on the right end of the scale and bowls a handy spell of five overs for ten runs. When Starc replaces him two wickets fall quickly. Firstly, Petersen plays all over a straight one and in the following over Kallis plays a virtually identical shot. They would both be disappointed at the amount of space they left between bat and pad. Full credit to Starc, as he pitched the ball up, allowing the seam to straighten for two impressive clean-bowled wickets. Amla was looking fairly composed and at lunch RSA are 3-63.

The second session starts with Ed Cowan dropping a sitter at short mid-wicket off Hastings. With Johnson back into the attack, Amla decides to take on Dave Warner and gets run out by a direct hit. Brilliant fielding by Warner, proving that on this occasion, the mo is mightier than the beard, but it was poor decision that cost Amla his wicket. De Villiers is beaten by a beautiful outswinger from Hastings and a catch from the Skipper at first slip gives Hastings a well-earned scalp. He has picked up his pace after the break and is getting dangerous late movement by pitching it in fuller.

Debutante Elgar faces twelve tenuous balls and is mercifully caught by Wade after top-edging Johnson. RSA in real strife at 6-75 as Robin Peterson, playing his first test in five years, joins Du Plessis at the crease.

It is now time for some French resistance and Du Plessis starts to work the ball for runs while Peterson decides to play some rare attacking shots. The wicket is playing well, the ball is wearing and a fifty partnership is forged without much trouble. The ship appears to be steadying a little until Clarke, whose bowling changes are inspired so far, brings on Lyon to mix it up. Almost immediately Peterson falls trying to cut a wide ball that just bounced a fraction higher than he anticipated. Wade took a fine catch and RSA were under pressure again.  They went to tea at 7-141 with Du Plessis joined by Philander.

While the Australian bowlers pitched short, RSA were 1-61 at one stage and looking reasonably comfortable. When they started to pitch the ball up it was almost as if the RSA batsmen had forgotten that they needed to use their feet. When looking at the dismissals on the replay, poor batting technique seems to be more of a factor than brilliant bowling. Intelligent bowling yes, but the Proteas weren’t being blasted out by excessive pace, swing or seam.

After taking a battering from Johnson early, Philander started to settle and actually played some fine shots until Lyon lured him to mishit a flighter to Hussey. Steyn came and went quickly, playing on to Johnson. Morne Morkel hit four boundaries to make a valuable 17 until he holed out to Hastings off Lyon. South Africa all out for 225. Fas Du Plessis was not out 78 and tonight his Test average is an astonishing 266. His brave and confident innings could prove to be the difference at the end.

Warner and Cowan have to face just under an hour of Steyn, Philander and Morkel. Cowan had one of those days where the cricket gods must have pissed in his helmet. An easy dropped catch and a golden duck tell a sorry tale for Ed. Warner, joined by Watson was scratchy and Watson was given not out by Asad Rauf, only to have it reversed by technology. Philander was getting nice outswing and trapped Watson with a beauty. Nathan Lyon came in as night watchman to a standing ovation. (Most of the crowd thought it was Ponting). Lyon looked the pick of the batsman, offering the full face and using his feet to get forward, believe it or not.

All up, it was a fascinating day of Test cricket on a wicket that offered opportunities to both sides. Australia needs to make at least 350 to feel relatively safe. The pitch seems likely to quicken tomorrow and Smith’s decision to bat may well be justified if Morkel and Steyn can help keep Australia’s total under 300.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    “If manic depression was a left arm bowler…”

    Phil, that may be the best summation of Mitch’s career I’ve seen.

  2. Phil, it’s interesting how quickly decisions are praised – in this case, the selection panel would have been thrilled with the dismissals – without deeper investigation into what happened, as you’ve done here. Interesting to see the commentary on the decisions after the South Africans second innings

  3. Lovely work Phil. Also loved the “French resistance” line.

  4. …what JB said.

    Thank God the crickets been good (with the exception of the Australian pace attack), as all the noise surrounding it has been awful.

  5. Lord Bogan says:

    Yes, all that white noise Litza! Slater and Healy are particularly enervating. Was Tom Moody the silent partner? Whose idea was it to bring him in? SA were the superior batting team, as the second innings showed. At 6-75 we couldn’t make them pay.

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