First Test – Day 1: Making hay

Australia 4/297 (SE Marsh 122*, SPD Smith 91*) from 90 overs.

The story of this day is of both the rebirth of SE Marsh and the continuing aria of SPD Smith and of the lack of variety and imagination and depth and timeliness of South Africa’s bowling reserves. SE Marsh who was controversially selected in the touring party and then left out through injury and then recalled following injury to others scored 122* in the first innings of this first Test away from home while batting at four against the best Test side in the world. SPD Smith scored 91* to continue his impressive run of contributing when it matters. And he’s still 24 years old.

Late this afternoon my imaginary horse called Clarrie Grimmett whom I named after Australian leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett woke me and shook me and that could only mean that a Test match was imminent. And sure enough as we water and rest after a galloping and gambolling run and flight across one immense Australian continent and one immense Indian Ocean a Test cricket match has broken out. A Test between Australia and the Number One ranked country, no less. Bloody South Africa. No wonder Clarrie snuffs and snorts and stamps and twitches. It’s the first first class game for any player on the park since the Sydney Test ended on 5 January.

I’m watching this one without the use of my eyes. A vow of everlasting intent to never pay a cent to Foxtel has me without vision but for the sake of this story I’ll say now that my eyes are damaged following a skirmish involving whisky and a lady whom I will refer to only as Greta*.

The forecast is for fine weather and 30°C today, with a chance of storms on days 2 and 3 and we observe AJ Doolan making his debut and note that the last three debutants (JM Faulkner, GJ Bailey, AJ Doolan) share the distinguishing characteristic of being raised in Launceston, Tasmania. Another point of interest is the figure of A Symonds presenting the new cap. SE Marsh is the other inclusion. SR Watson (injured) and GJ Bailey (lack of runs) are out from the last Test side. For South Africa the prospect of life without JH Kallis has arrived with desperately poor timing. They have included R McLaren as their fifth bowler and in doing so have opted for bowling strength over batting depth though Clarrie reminds me that all of VN Philander and DW Steyn and M Morkel can impressively hold a bat.
GC Smith wins the toss and curiously decides to field.
DA Warner clatters his first ball to the straight boundary and his fourth ball to the cover boundary and after one over it’s 0/9.
Clarrie tells me that today Victoria played their first day of Sheffield Shield cricket for a couple of months and was bowled out in 50.1 overs on the SCG. It appears that cricketers have lost the application required for more testing forms of the game.

DA Warner carries on playing his “natural game” in KP fashion and drags one onto leg stump, as can happen when attempting to cut too close to the body. It’s a T20 dismissal with at least 2 days to bat. Let’s call it a thoughtful gesture towards his teammate on debut.
DA Warner b DW Steyn 12   (1/15, 4.1 overs)

And so AJ Doolan gets a nice early taste of Test cricket. And he’s off the mark second ball as he’s tapping it back on the off side. VD Philander works the debutant over and AJ Doolan uses soft hands to preserve his wicket. Well played. Edges trickling along the ground to second slip. AJ Doolan soon creams a cover drive from VD Philander showing us he’s happy enough to stride forward on this wicket. It’s a testing debut.

DW Steyn is off after only 4 overs; GC Smith showing remarkable capacity to take the pill from a wicket-taking fast bowling spearhead. M Morkel is brought on. Second ball is fast and it’s furious and it’s banged in short to CJL Rogers who fends it away to short leg where JP Duminy dives at full stretch and takes a beauty. Is that what it feels like to cop the Mitchell treatment?

CJL Rogers c JP Duminy b Morkel 4   (2/24, 8.2 overs)

SE Marsh strides to the crease at number four and in so doing comes in ahead of his captain and so joins debutant AJ Doolan. M Morkel in his role as first change bowler is rapidly up to 140 clicks and then up to 148 clicks and SE Marsh edges one past his stumps for four.

After drinks the fourth bowler R McLaren bowls probing seamers of impeccable placement for two overs and M Morkel has SE Marsh dropped by HM Amla in the gully. It’s 2/61.

After 18 overs on Day 1 and having won the toss and bowled GC Smith calls for the left arm orthodox spin of RJ Peterson. He’s the fifth bowler used. It’s RJ Peterson with R McLaren suggesting that GC Smith has perhaps forgotten that he may freely call on three other handy bowlers at any time. RJ Peterson is given 2 overs with little consequence. Coming up to lunch now and AJ Doolan has a crack but is caught on the pull shot. The shot was on but he didn’t get it and instead has left his captain MJ Clarke testingly exposed just before lunch.

AJ Doolan c JP Duminy b R McLaren 27 (3/72, 23.1 overs)

Signs of variable bounce abound this morning with M Morkel bouncing one over AB de Villiers’ head and other balls falling short. Treacherous. The pitch will only deteriorate from here and South Africa has mysteriously chosen to bat last.

LUNCH 3/83 after 27 overs (MJ Clarke 11*, SE Marsh 23*)

The 26th parallel south is a circle of latitude that lies 26 degrees south of the Earth’s equatorial plane and as such it crosses the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, the Indian Ocean, Australasia, the Pacific Ocean and South America.
It’s at 26°0’S 22°43’E that we find South Africa, NorthWest, Gauteng. Around about Centurion. We’re not far from Johannesburg. This very evening Clarrie & I left Australia by riding the equivalent line of latitude which took us through Poeppel Corner at the South Australia/ Queensland/ Northern Territory border after leaving Maryborough over on the Queensland coast. We are each of us mightily disappointed to learn that the name of this ground is SuperSport Park. SuperSport/ Etihad/ Skilled/ Telstra/ Pattersons/ Blundstone/ PTY LTD arena cheapens the whole enterprise. We can do better.

DW Steyn and VD Philander commence with a maiden each after lunch and we appear to be entering a time of consolidation and of patience. A pair of murderers of English observe in commentary that “nothing much is happening” which only enhances the link found between murderers of English and those suffering an absence of imagination. Test cricket is being impressively played.
It’s 3/91 from 32 overs.

DW Steyn and VD Philander test MJ Clarke with the short ones. MJ Clarke flays one through backward point.
MJ Clarke goes after another short one and this time he is unable to control it and he has indeed fallen into a well-laid trap. DW Steyn bangs it in to MJ Clarke and he flicks at it in a paddle-fashion and the ball soars to the outfield and VD Philander has a long time to think about it but pouches the cherry nonetheless.

MJ Clarke c VD Philander b DW Steyn 23 (4/98, 33.5 overs)

SPD Smith joins SE Marsh now. And he’s immediately and blithely ignoring the advice of aeons to play in the “v” until you get your eye by square driving R McLaren to the backward point boundary first ball.
M Morkel replaces DW Steyn and the Australians navigate their way unhurriedly through the overs. It’s 32 degrees Celsius with humidity at 23% and it’s 4/113 after 40 overs as drinks are taken in the middle of the middle session. The over rate is abysmal.
Clarrie agrees that these two need to put together a partnership of significance here and are helped in this cause by the re-introduction of RJ Peterson after drinks. Clarrie nods with wary wisdom as SPD Smith exposes his stumps in trying to force a run.

SPD Smith and SE Marsh each begin to use their feet to the spin of RJ Peterson, unsettling his length and turning the strike over. It’s 4/145 (SE Marsh 52*, SPD Smith 19*). Some important runs. A happy return for SE Marsh although his movement seems to be increasingly affected by a calf injury.

SE Marsh and SPD Smith continue to turn over the scoreboard with some sweetly timed drives though the variation in bounce from the pitch continues apace. These are good runs as VD Philander has one dribbling through to the keeper and then three overs later M Morkel bounces one over the head of the same keeper for 5 wides. Tea is taken. The over rate is appalling.

TEA: 4/197 after 54 overs (SE Marsh 67*, SPD Smith 29*)

It’s M Morkel and DW Steyn after tea and they’re being handled with a mature combination of patience and plunder by both SPD Smith and SE Marsh. After 62 overs at 4/199 GC Smith calls his sixth bowler to the wicket and JP Duminy has been called to add some variation and to act as partnership-breaker.

The partnership does not break and the concentration does not break and maidens are played out and crashing square cuts and booming straight drives are played and SE Marsh tootles on towards a century. SPD Smith clubs R McLaren over extra cover on the bounce to reach fifty and SE Marsh turns JP Duminy to square leg to reach one hundred and it’s his second Test ton after scoring one on debut three years ago and Australia have drifted out to 4/237 on the bowling of R McLaren and JP Duminy.

Drinks are taken and GC Smith reacts to the woeful over rate by bowling JP Duminy with RJ Peterson to hustle through some ahead of the new ball. Any pressure is lost and SE Marsh and in particular SPD Smith rattle along and the match enters a phase of waiting to see what happens with the second new ball as Australia edges up to 4/259 after 80 overs (SE Marsh 108*, SPD Smith 71*).

GC Smith inexplicably carries on with JP Duminy and RJ Peterson for two more overs after the new ball is due and in doing so shows dubious levels of match awareness.

VD Philander takes the new cherry for the 83rd over and the beginning of the last Act of Day 1 and SPD Smith slices one loftily through backward point and then carves one superbly through cover. 8 off. Australia 4/271.
DW Steyn takes the next over with the new pill and has SE Marsh on 110* inside edging to fine leg before SPD Smith drives him from the centre of the bat for four.
M Morkel has the third over with the new nut and comes around the wicket to SE Marsh but he too gives up a boundary to backward point.
Australia has the upper hand and all the card shuffling of GC Smith cannot hide this fact as the final overs are negotiated without further drama. SPD Smith carves further runs. SE Marsh stays out of trouble. Clarrie nuzzles my ear as SE Marsh and SPD Smith waddle off. The SE Marsh selection raised some hackles but good on him. The valuable contributions of SPD Smith continue to mount and good on him too. The South African bowlers were impressive early and then offered little through a flat and sunny afternoon as Australian batsmen made hay.
The South Africans face an uphill battle now having taken only four wickets today and having to bat last on this pitch.

* In truth I have the 2014-crystal radio equivalent of cricinfo and ABC radio online. Though I am consequently and unsatisfactorily reliant upon that particularly unlovely South African accent for commentary.

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good summary E regnans re over rate hurry up and introduce a runs penalty per over that will speed the over rate up . Well done S Marsh ( as Brendan Mc Ardle says argument over his selection was not about his ability ) S Smith continues to impress and perform when it counts the odds on him being our next captain are shortening by the minute . I disagree re naming of ovals I could not care what they are called when money is being put on to sport ( how it is used is a different matter )
    We eagerly await day , 2 Thanks OBP

  2. Nicely written Dave . Look after clarrie on that big African continent. You know where you can view foxtel….. Just saw smith get his ton.

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    The read was just as absorbing as the days play was to watch. Mighty effort by Clarrie.

    Launceston the new Wagga Wagga? Actually its even better when you add DC Boon and RT Ponting.

  4. Thanks E.regnans, I’m starting to be ok with the accent, has it softened?
    The horse bit startled me, I thought you may be providing a Lennie Lower tribute.

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