SA's best and worst in a day

2011-11-18 22:00

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Warts and all from both sets of combatants, what a weird, yet undoubtedly captivating little Test series this is turning out to be.

One-nil to the good and presumably desperate - I say presumably because sometimes it has not looked like it – to get at least a convincing, no-loss outcome from of the final encounter at the Wanderers to win their first home series against Australia in the post-isolation era, the Proteas flirted very dangerously with possible disaster in the first session of day two on Friday.

Their plans for an early shut-out of the tourists already in some state of dishevelment after only totalling 266 in their first innings a day earlier, Graeme Smith’s side were pounded to all corners of the Bullring as the Aussies’ reply began in imperious fashion from Phillip Hughes and Shane Watson.

The opening batsmen, both too often given the liberty they crave to free their arms and give the ball an old-fashioned welly, went along at a rollicking lick as the pre-lunch play was overwhelmingly dominated by the Baggy Greens.

The sum of 169 runs from 33 overs, in a session stretched by almost half an hour due to weather disruption on Thursday, at 5.12 runs per over is about as tasty a feast as you could wish for if you were Australian – and you could almost say the blank wickets column was “minus one” considering that along the way South Africa also declined a review against Hughes when he was proved out on 38, exactly 50 runs shy of his eventual contribution.

Veteran SA-watchers could have been tempted to wonder whether that session might have been the country’s least productive ever in the field in Tests ... until they chewed on prior periods of awful fruitlessness, as would have happened often, for instance, during the marathon Jayawardene-Sangakkara third-wicket alliance of 624 for Sri Lanka against the Proteas at Colombo in 2006.

Instead, in this instance South Africa were decisively not flogged into submission!

In events totally in keeping with the schizophrenic nature of the series thus far, the hosts found some quite remarkable recovery mojo, starting gently by getting their basic bowling disciplines infinitely tighter and beginning to reel in the hitherto damaging run rate.

Depriving both Watson and Hughes of centuries was also a positive development, after they had seemed set so fair for them -- and what happened next was almost the stuff of fairytale as the Aussie innings gradually deflated like a beach ball snared and punctured on a barbed wire fence.

Confirming the periodic fragility that has afflicted both sides in the series, the tourists basically buckled from 174 without loss to 296 all out – yes, that’s 10 for 122 -- and a pretty negligible first-knock lead of 30 that they will know ought to have been six or seven times that tally or more.

The situation really amounted to even-stevens, as most educated Test-lovers will know, bearing in mind that it is the Aussies who must bat last on a pitch likely to deteriorate to a fairly meaningful extent if it remains subjected to good doses of hot Highveld sunshine.

It must be said that everyone in the South African attack got his game together to a seriously praiseworthy degree after lunch, mostly backed by good sharpness among the fielders and wicketkeeper, although the wicket-grabbing damage ended up mostly inflicted by Dale Steyn and, in a welcome development, Imran Tahir.

Steyn is an amazing athlete: the main strike bowler was not at his best, and notably down on gas initially, but he seldom stays out of a game for long and almost before you could say “bang” he was back in business, those chainsaw-imitating celebrations reminding us all that his lustre had returned.

He would have had yet another five-for but for a “dolly” catching blooper by substitute fielder Dale Deeb, but it did facilitate an extra scalp (his third) not long afterwards for leg-spinner Tahir, who effectively announced himself as a factor for the Proteas in this format of the game.

The popular, Pakistan-born journeyman played a major role in knocking over the Australian tail, which is always one of the known key values of his art, and his classic wrong ‘un to bamboozle and bowl Peter Siddle is worth replaying over and over again.

Some perspective is important, even amidst South Africa’s rightful dressing-room satisfaction about their brilliant work in the second two-thirds of Friday’s play.

This match, after all, looks increasingly likely not to end in a draw considering the stealth with which it is moving, and that is a particularly positive aspect from an Australian point of view as they are playing catch-up to try to grab a share of the outrageously short series.

Whatever happens over the next two or three days, it cries out ever more loudly, considering the massive fluctuations and thrills and spills, for a third encounter that sadly won’t be happening ...


  • Kenjaymay - 2011-11-18 23:16

    What a dramatic article!

      Werner - 2011-11-19 01:33

      Also don't always understand the dramatic undertones and word usage. Sometimes makes it hard to read.

  • Anneleen - 2011-11-18 23:55

    All the best to you, Proteas...!!!

  • Dino - 2011-11-19 00:36

    Now this is test cricket on a knife edge, a real chess game - love it! All the best to SA!

      Thomas - 2011-11-19 01:44

      This is cricket!! This is what a cricketer is judged by!!!

  • Gareth - 2011-11-19 00:54

    Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir in particular prevented Australia from running away with it in this game when they took seven wickets between them. That impressive start of 174 runs between Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes was healthy for Australia,but sickening for us. Some really aggressive batting there by them,but it took just one breakthrough for South Africa through Vernon Philander which sparked the Australian collapse. Just look at Dale Steyn's sensational stats for 2010/ 2011 season: 14 Tests played 76 wickets taken. This guy is incredible!

  • Ian - 2011-11-19 06:53

    good luck boys, lets post a huge one, bat them completely out of the game

  • Mary - 2011-11-19 06:59

    Love the article! Thanks for making a cricket test sound exciting, really exceptional!

  • Peter - 2011-11-19 08:44

    STEYN is a very good bowler but has a long way to go to be compared to Glen Macgrath and company, as usual South Africa is making hero s out of players before they have really made their names.

      ricky.klopper - 2011-11-19 13:08

      dale steyn has the best strike rate of all time out of any bowlers that have taken more than 200 wickets. he has been the number 1 ranked test bowler or close to it for the last 4 years. there is no doubt that he is by far the best fast bowler in the world at the moment. there is also no doubt that, even if he were to stop his career now, he would be remembered as one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time.

  • Gaby - 2011-11-19 08:53

    These guys are fantastic and make for a terrific game. Steyn is awesome and Kallis, the man is on fire. Wow!

  • Wolf - 2011-11-19 09:32

    Oh dear, looks like someone broke out the old dictionary, only to use terms in the wrong context, or perhaps you would say “contest”. I won’t be pedantic about the use of “schizophrenic”, but calling Imran Tahir a journeyman, if truly meant, is disingenuous to say the least. Calling a spinner with 586 first-class wickets to his name mediocre seems rather inappropriate. Not to mention the clearly fast paced test match moving along “stealthily.” Perhaps try “surreptitiously” next time, Rob, if you’re trying to be obtuse.

  • DuToitCoetzee - 2011-11-19 09:32

    ...........and who said tests are boring? Only the people who make us belief they love cricket, but when asking they tell you 20 overs is the best because they are in actual fact fly by night spectators/supporters. Why don't they go and watch a show, a fight or gamble if they want a short-live excitement feeling?

  • wayneoK - 2011-11-19 11:18

    The is the worst written article I have seen on News 24 in a long time. The cricket couldn't have been too interesting if you had to bury your face in a thesaurus just to write the day's roundup. Most times I was more willing to just let what you were trying to say go than try and trace a road map between all your sentence fragments, commas, dashes etc. to try and understand you. Poor show.

  • Jeffrey - 2011-11-19 21:08

    superbly written article you fools.... If you loved test cricket for what it truly is you would understand.

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