Friday, 30 November 2012

The Decider - Aust v SA Day 1

They finally got down to playing cricket in Perth but not before TV coverage gave us the start of what will no doubt be a nauseating surfeit of Ponting nostalgia. Even to get to the raising of the flags and the screeching of the anthems, we needed to have Ponting miked so he could explain what he was experiencing.

Can we get to the cricket?

Australia made four changes and South Africa three to the teams who played themselves to a standstill in Adelaide. Much has been said and written since the Australia skipper, Michael Clarke, announced yesterday that Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus needed a rest after the exhaustion of Adelaide. Lets not get carried away with the comparison of the toughness of those from yesteryear compared to our current mob. Lillee might have bowled with a broken back but he didn't have to play again three days later! The fault doesn't lie with "soft" players  or a selection policy which preserves bowlers (and they say its a batsman's game). Blame programmers who design these compressed series and show no understanding of the game. Three Tests in four weeks is bad enough but why plan such an important series with ten days between the first two Tests and only three days between the second and third!

Australia ignored the claims of the youngster Josh Hazelwood and instead gave the debut cap to John Hastings, allowed Mitch Starc a belated summer start and returned Mitch Johnson. The last time Australia replaced all of their pace attack was 1885. Shane Watson returned from injury - a common phrase in Australian sport.

South Africa managed to included Jacques Kallis, allowed Dean Elgar to play his first Test, included left arm spinner Robin Petersen and returned the quickly included Vernon Philander.

Graeme Smith won the toss and batted and South Africa looked to have done the business five minutes before lunch. Till then, Smith had been the only casualty, caught at first slip by Michael Clarke when Watson came to the bowling crease. Every time he runs in to bowl the Australian bowling looks better and the Australian batting looks vulnerable.

Mitchell Starc two big wickets
before lunch
Mitchell Starc, a few overs into his second spell, bought the WACA alive with two superb inswingers which uprooted the stumps of first Alviro Petersen and then in next over, Jacques Kallis. They say in football, that games are often decided either side of half time. Lunch may have had the same effect, because the two wickets just before lunch were enhanced by a further three in the five overs after. Amla was unaccountably dropped by Cowan at short midwicket but Warner cleaned him up with a direct hit from point next over. AB de Villiers edged Hastings to slip and Elgar scored a twelve ball duck in his first Test innings, caught behind off Johnson.

6-75 was the worst start either side had made in any Test this series.

du Plessis made 78x with the tail
From here, Faf du Plessis again proved his worth, showing his double success in Adelaide was no fluke. Batting with the support of Robin Peterson and Philander, he reconstructed the South African innings to at least a point of nuisance and when the tail left, he was short of another fighting hundred.

Australia started their innings only needing to bat for 11 overs to rest easy but a rejuvenated Dale Steyn and man previously below his best, Vernon Philander, steamed in and made the ball talk for the first time in the series. Ed Cowan left in the opening over, to the first ball he faced, edging to Kallis at second slip. Watson looked robust enough but was out in a memorable fashion, stiding forward to avoid the lbw decision ... and being out lbw anyway. It was a DRS special. This decision would never have been given before technology took the game away from human beings. It wasn't given out by Asad Rauf and the resultant technological hanging left a lot to be satisfied about. For Watson, it was a familiar demise, having been dismissed in 30% of his Test innings with his pads in front of the sticks. The direct route is the way to bring down, for if you add the times he has been bowled, you have almost half of his "how outs".

Dilemma: Ponting due in and twenty five minutes left to go. Naturally, in walked the nightwatchman. Nathan Lyon the greatest ovation he is ever likely to with bat in hand, the big first day crowd believing it was God walking to the centre despite the situation. Nup, he was laughing in the dressing room. Lyon survived.

This game is alive.

Maybe we can all stay focussed now.