Third Test – Day 2: Ricky and me

Australia 163, South Africa 2/230

December 1. As Christmas are dragged out of duct-taped boxes amid a cloud of dust and tinsel all over Australia, the cricketing community settles in to view what could well be Ricky Ponting’s last innings, if the Aussies can muster a decent knock.

Regardless of a person’s stance on Ponting – whether they’ve been staunch fans through thick and thin or were baying for his dropping just a week ago – everyone is united in a sense of fond nostalgia for the career that has defined this generation of baggy-green wearers. For veterans of many campaigns, it seems only yesterday the goateed Tasmanian worked his way to a near-century on debut. For me, though, it’s a career that’s spanned my entire interest in cricket, and most of my life. Seventeen years – 77% of my life, and as long as iconic Melbourne band Bodyjar’s music career. While his age has certainly been showing in recent years, the thought of a Ponting-less Australia is unfathomable.

Australia didn’t have long to wait to see the man himself take to the crease, as the WACA continued to be a bowler’s best friend. Warner finds himself victim of a perplexing LBW of the calibre that would get Hercule Poirot’s ‘grey matter’ tingling. But those hoping for an inspired innings from the former captain were bitterly disappointed as he, too, falls victim to the WACA pitch. His dismissal is almost poetic – a pair to that first Test innings Channel 9 showed on the pre-game show. Back in 1995, he scored 96, succumbing to an LBW that would arguably have been overturned had the DRS been around. Today, it was those missing four runs that would have given him the century, before once more going out leg before wicket. He turns to the DRS, but today it will not save him.

Australia is in a dire position, faring even worse that South Africa did on day one, and detracting from what was a great performance by the bowlers. Not that I needed any further confirmation of the strife we were in, but a trip through the lounge room revealed Dad had switched over to Turner Classic Movies. He was clearly persuaded we were stuffed.

When Clarke goes, you’ve gotta wonder how Australia could ever have been considered a chance. At 6-45, the baggy greens will be lucky to crack a ton. It’s as though they didn’t learn anything from South Africa’s innings yesterday – either that, or they were powerless to stop the wickets falling. After a less than impressive summer, the South African bowlers were proving their ranking, helped along with a bowler-friendly pitch.

Enter Matty Wade.

Together with Mr Cricket, Wade steadies the ship. Hussey is more than happy to let Wade work on ticking over the runs as he holds his wicket, and over by over, Australia rouses itself from the nightmare. After Wade is properly settled in, he lets loose. He shows no fear, taking on the bowlers as few other batsman have been game to thus far in Perth – and for now, luck is on his side.

He hits 11 off an over. Mum, listening on the radio as she drove, comes home to tell dad to switch it back on to the cricket. He does so without fanfare, without complaining. The hopes are starting to rise again.

As Wade brings up a partnership 50 with a cracking four, he’s contributed 41 runs to Hussey’s nine. Morkel’s impressive saves in the outfield are overshadowed by Wade’s growing confidence at the crease. In the blink of an eye, Australia at last reaches the 100-run mark. But, true to form, Hussey is gone just moments later. He made only 12 runs, but they were a fighting 12. A steadying 12. A reaffirming 12.

Hastings takes to the crease and the Victorians see out the last 20 minutes before the lunch break.

When they come out for the second session, Wade’s dash appears to be done. He crawls to 68 runs – having been on 60 at lunch – before he tries to smash Petersen out of the ground, and ends up bowled. Hasto, feeling the weight on his rather broad and recently mended shoulders, takes over the attack and is particularly ruthless in his treatment of Petersen, who he smashes for three consecutive and almost identical boundaries. Johnson starts well, but is gone for just seven, and Hasto isn’t too far behind, caught out in that once-rare-now-common juggling act over the boundary. Almost a six, but actually the end of the Australian first innings.

When South Africa comes out for its second go with the bat, it looks like the pitch might finally have turned in the batsmen’s favour – either that, or the Proteas have finally cracked the code.

Thank-goodness for the reborn Mitchell Johnson. Looking remarkably more dangerous in his return than when last he graced the international stage, Johnson removes danger man Petersen in what is arguably one of the greatest caught & bowled plays of all time, and is certainly the catch of the series. He got the bounce, ran the length of the pitch, nested it. As beautiful in its hard-earned nature as it was aesthetically.

It’s a rare highlight for the Aussies as Smith and Amla go on to make a mockery of the new Australian bowling line-up. The selections which seemed so brilliant just yesterday seem decidedly lacking in this second innings, and Clarke’s continual rotation policy isn’t helping them a great deal.

Smith and Amla each pass thirty, then forty. In the blink of an eye, they’ve got their half centuries and have a dumb-founding strike rate. The bowlers lack spark and the Proteas find their jobs quite easy. They continue to eke out the runs, and before too long, Smith and Amla find themselves in the 80s. Astounding, given how many near-misses Smith had when still on naught.

The drought-breaker comes for Australia in what Bill Lawry was quick to dub the “catch of the century”. Smith gets a top edge that carries to the outfield, where Lyon runs felt pelt, dives full length and takes a beauty that has shades of a certain McGrath catch.

Both Australia’s wickets have been extraordinary – but they’ve also required super-human feats. Suddenly, a draw isn’t looking so ridiculous. And maybe, just maybe, Australia will be lucky if a draw is the outcome.

Kallis is dropped by man-of-the-moment Lyon just a few balls later, and the South Africans look unshaken in their confidence. Amla tries hard to reach his century before stumps, but falls just one run short. The only saving grace Australia can hope for at this stage is that he’ll get nervous overnight, and stumble before he can hit the ton.

On day one, it seemed very probable. By close of day two, it seems highly unlikely.

Has the momentum swung the way of the batsmen? Can the Aussie bowlers find something? The only thing the players seem sure of is that this test will finish with a result. There’s certainly enough time left. By the end of the match, the world will know who the number one test nation is.

And won’t they have earned it.

Comments

  1. Peter Schumacher says:

    Cricket is a funny game, Australia could have been two up, certainly one up, now they are probably going to look like a pack of dills. Perhaps carrying Ponting for one match too many although to be fair there were multiple failures in that first innings.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    Australia haven’t have a performing number 3 or 4 batsman for a fair while.

    That’ll bite you on the date at some stage.

    Clarke and Hussey bat at 5 and 6. Maybe they have to bat at 3 and 4.

    Dopey Watto isn’t the answer at 3. He’s a number 6 at best.

    The rotation policy with the bowlers can only be judged after 2 innings. It’s failed as it was always going to.

    You can’t carry Starc and Johnson in the same side.

    On a positive note, Amla has played one of the great all-time Test centuries.

    What a talent!

  3. I predicted this.

  4. DBalassone says:

    We can win this.

  5. Tell im e’s dreamin

  6. Loved that you brought ‘Bodyjar’ into it, Susie!

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