Australia v South Africa – Perth Test: Saffas slow out of the blocks

Though the south-east corner of the nation has yet to properly leave winter behind, the test ‘summer’ has crept upon us in the modern inconspicuous way. What would have previously been considered the showpiece of the season will be dispensed with in three tests over the next 25 November days. This first match will battle for attention with Victoria’s Spring Carnival. By the time school holidays arrive, this series will be an increasingly distant memory. If you demonstrate the value you attach to something by the care given to its context, Cricket Australia’s continued paeans to the primacy of test cricket ring hollow.

To be fair to CA, this isn’t a situation completely of its own making. Since the IPL established India’s economic dominance of the cricket world, no one has managed to balance the three formats of the game without diminishing many aspects of cricket’s whole. The international game now struggles for supremacy with cashed-up competitors. CA shows some awareness of this; giving time at its AGM to discuss proposals to bring balance back to the fixture. What exact shape this plan will take, and whether it can eventually amount to anything meaningful, remain questions for future determination.

In the meantime, the fixture represents the increasingly desperate pursuit of the new money the game has become so addicted to.

Three-test series in compressed time spans are an unreliable vehicle to establish the true standing of combatants. A poor first test has little time to be redeemed. Given that most visiting teams are now parachuted into a series with the most token preparation, poor first tests are a substantial risk. Its little wonder few teams have much of a record away from home any more.

On day one in Perth, South Africa did much to demonstrate this dilemma. Winning the toss, they batted on a WACA wicket with bounce, but no particular fire. An unconvincing Cook edged Starc’s fourth ball to slip. Soon enough, the visitors were facing disaster at 4-32. Australia’s quicks maintained a decent length, and some fine catches were taken, but there was nothing particularly overwhelming in their effort. As often happens in Perth, the visiting batsmen struggled to adapt to the bounce, and a variety of nicks went behind the wicket. We have seen this many times before.

Skipper Faf du Plessis and the diminutive Temba Bavuma dug in, reaching lunch precariously poised at 4-78, off a funereal 26 overs.

Du Plessis then undermined their efforts with a loose waft outside off-stump upon resumption. Bavuma found impressive support in emerging lefty tyro Quinton de Kock. The Australian over rate remained criminally slow, but de Kock hastened, taking advantage of the lightning fast outfield. Yet another player who has used short-form cricket to establish international credentials, de Kock scored easily off an Australian attack now looking a little uninspired. Bavuma often plays with feet anchored, but he maintains a basically straight bat in defence. He also began to pick off the bowling, and 5-81 became a more promising 5-152 as the middle session progressed.

Finally, Steve Smith remembered Nathan Lyon was playing. Bavuma drove Lyon to the boundary to reach 50, but relaxed and immediately nicked onto his thigh pad, whereupon Shaun Marsh held a fine low short-leg catch. Once again the value of a change of pace had been amply demonstrated.

The remainder of the South African innings became a question of how much support de Kock could muster from the tail. All the others demonstrated some ability with the willow, but none really applied themselves to the task of digging in to support de Kock. He remained largely untroubled by the bowling, as Australia forgot the principals of line and length that had served them well earlier in the day. What eventually troubled him was his disappearing partners. He was finally ninth out for an impressive 84, trying to force the pace off Hazlewood.

When the South African innings concluded at 242, 26 overs theoretically remained to be bowled for the day.

Mitch Starc was again required to be both cutting edge and workhorse of the attack. This was in part due to the curious role Josh Hazlewood plays in the Australian bowling balance. Possessing  McGrath-like stature and pace, it seems presumed by selectors he will eventually develop a nagging McGrath-like method. Though he retains a valuable knack of picking up his share of wickets, he is yet to consistently demonstrate such method. Because Hazlewood too regularly leaks runs, Starc ends up bowling more overs than he should. If South Africa can muster better batting resolve, the home team may yet find themselves in for a long haul.

Though Michael Slater seems compelled to rhapsodise on and on and on whenever David Warner occupies the crease, the truth is that Warner’s batting method still possesses all the charm and flourish of a sledgehammer. But it is a very effective sledgehammer. Those blacksmith’s forearms, combined with modern bat technology, make him a dangerous weapon in benign batting conditions. In recent years, Warner has finally mastered a batting tempo that serves him well in test cricket. At his best when he maintains a compact shape to his stroke play, he was generously obliged early on by Vernon Philander, who gave him ample width to punch through the off-side. Philander also notably obliged by overstepping the crease when Warner missed one of the few stump-bound deliveries produced. Once Warner was away, the visitors struggled to contain him.

Shaun Marsh made a compelling contrast. For the first twenty deliveries he faced, Marsh looked as unconvincing as it is possible to be. Thereafter, he hung in, but rarely impressed. His survival owed much to Dale Steyn losing the plot after his opening couple of overs, and the general inability of Philander and Rabada to maintain any consistent pressure. By stumps, Australia had romped to 0-105 off 21 overs. The remaining five promised overs disappeared into the ether of ICC regulations.

Like many test days in recent years, this day had its highlights, but found a way to underwhelm as a whole. Too many dismissals were gifted, rather than earned. Too many runs were the product of profligate bowling lengths. Test cricket should place the utmost demands on technique, temperament and application. When it is contested amongst too many other competing demands, ennui and attrition too often prevail.

South Africa have dug themselves a considerable hole already. They have extricated themselves from such situations before, but must now do so minus G Smith, Kallis, de Villiers and Morkel. That will take some doing.

Australia 0 for 105 (Warner 73*, S Marsh 29*) trail South Africa 242 (De Kock 84, Bavuma 51, Starc 4-71, Hazlewood 3-70) by 137 runs

 

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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. Peter Flynn says:

    I’ll be waiting for Australia to ‘play’ overseas again.

    Until then rejoice in the flat track bullies.

  2. I’m disappointed that Joe Mennie was made 12th man.
    Apparently he is a gun bat.

  3. John Butler says:

    Good to hear from you PJF. How we do love a flat track.

    Smoke, are you suggesting inconsistencies (maybe that should read incongruities) in selection criteria?

    Perish the thought.

  4. Dave Brown says:

    Was worried about the ultra conservative Australian approach to de Kock, John. Will see if they bowl to him the same way in the rest of the series. In the end he brought himself undone by starting to farm the strike too early. Rabada can bat but de Kock passed up a couple of opportunities earlier in the Hazelwood over to take runs, further putting unnecessary pressure on himself. Should have waited for Steyn to come out before those hijinks.

    I really enjoyed watching SMarsh bat yesterday. His eye was very good even if his hands weren’t. He retained the most important feature of not getting out.

    Sooo tired of slow over rates. Umpires need to take more control as the rules allow them to.

  5. John Butler says:

    Dave, not sure if S Smith is a problem solving captain. He waits for mistakes rather than encourage them.

    But then again, I don’t think the team as a whole are problem solvers – cf their form OS. Is this the effect of all these dressing room advisers/coaches?

    Marsh is a complete enigma. His mediocre record at all levels suggests he is over-reliant on that eye. But he is still in, which is , as you say, the most relevant virtue for any batsman.

    Cheers

  6. John Butler says:

    Speaking of holes, Australia’s middle order just fell down a big one.

  7. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    JB couldn’t agree more re programming etc a very good summary in general.Steve Smith lb showed every thing where DRS hasn’t worked and a umpire who clearly knows nothing and does not understand the game a vital howler is a understatement

  8. John Butler says:

    Rulebook, not sure I completely agree with you re the Smith decision.

    Didn’t the review show the ball pitched in line and was hitting (just)? Can’t call that a howler. Just unconventional. Everyone seems outraged because Smith was a long way down the track. But that’s an umpiring convention, not a rule.

    Yes, it was unlucky, but Dar was criticized the day before when he gave Warner not out. Swings and roundabouts.

    The doubt probably should have gone to the batsman, but batsmen never think they’re out LBW.

  9. JB I would be outraged who ever the batsman was it is wrong that it has become cricket law that a camera judges where a ball is headed when your that far down the track no one can determine that a ball would not have moved a inch or less and clearly missed the stumps.I have always held the opinion
    that there should be a line marked and once the batsman is forward of that not out,a umpire would glance over at his square leg colleague who would easily confirm I have spoken to two umpires who were on the iccc panel and they see merit in it.The DRS should be used re inside edge,hot spot etc,
    A complete lack of cricket common sense in that decision idiotic things like that are causing real cricket lovers to loose interest in the game

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