Saturday, 1 December 2012

South Africa Prove Their Status

It was a sad morning for Australian cricket in Perth. The sell out crowd which gathered early so that they might be ready to worship at the altar which the Cricket Australia has built in the past few days - with the salivating support of the media - had to wait only a short while. In only the third over of the morning, He was walking to the wicket, the faithful standing and beating their hands to stumps because they had no other way of saying thank you.

So they should.

Dave Warner bought him there, wafting at Steyn with no hope of doing more than hitting only a bit of it. In the end, it was hard to see what justification could be mounted for giving him out, other than a small noise. No other evidence existed.

Ponting got off the mark with a single dropped to cover but night watchman Nathan Lyon was caught in the gully two balls later when another late Steyn outswinger was far too good for him.

Ponting falls lbw to Philander
There was a pull over midwicket from Ponting off Philander but without the trademark imperious timing and it plugged forward of square. Clarke defended and pushed against Steyn but in only the fifth over, Ponting pushed forward, Philander bent it back and Ponting was lbw. Clarke, overcome in sentimentality, must have wished for a no ball in agreeing to the review which he hoped would save his mentor. On any another day, when the man asking wasn't the Lion King, Clarke would have simply shook has head and said bad luck. It was out from the moment it hit the front pad.

Australia, 5-43 and both reviews gone.

Clarke's punishment came in the next over, caught behind from a surging Steyn to the best ball of the morning.

Wade smiling and ducking
for the camera
Matt Wade played positively from the start and with the bowling changing he made the most of Robin Petersen coming on to bowl. With Mike Hussey playing the supporting role, they more than doubled the score until Morkel returned and cleaned up the inform Hussey with a beauty that moved away from the left hander and Graeme Smith took the catch comfortably. In 25 overs until lunch, Australia lost 5-85 but the damage came in the first six overs of the morning.

Wade, who had batted with such freedom amongst the morning disaster, seemed shackled after the break, adding only 8 in nine overs and in seeming desperation to get back on top of the bowlers, he swept unwisely at Petersen and was bowled. John Hastings looked uncomfortable early in his first Test innings but blossomed into some useful late blows. In a remarkable mirror image of the South African innings on the first day, Petersen cleaned up the tail, bowling Mitch Johnson and claiming the better of a big hitting Hastings, caught on the inside, over and then back inside the long off boundary by Alviro Petersen. Like Dale Steyn in Brisbane, it showed great skill and an even better presence of mind.

In a low scoring match, a 62 run deficit could be fatal.

South Africa batted with a renewed purpose and their intent became obvious as the afternoon unfolded. Alviro Petersen started the attack but Smith and Hashim Amla attacked the bowlers and the more they did, the more loose balls were fed up. The plan of attacking off stump seemed to have been forgotten and for the first time in his captaincy career, Clarke appeared to have few answers. Still, if the cattle produce more waste than milk, it limits the farmer. When South Africa raised the hundred, a graphic on the TV coverage indicated only one ball bowled would have hit the stumps.

The was no consistency of length and certainly no one able to deliver the same line, ball by ball.

Once exposed in the face of the batting aggression, Australia's inexperienced attack, devoid of a leader, bowled rubbish. With the score climbing at eight an over half way through the session, Clarke would have accepted a few overs from Peter Siddle, running in on stumps and bleeding from every pore. Rotation be damned. Smith was given out lbw to Starc but it was unsurprisingly over turned as being too high and soon after, some time capsule or other had Ponting fielding and throwing at lightning pace at short mid wicket but a clever transfer of his bat from one hand to the other allowed a diving Smith to beat the clatter of the stumps.

Hashim Amla made his hundred
off only 
Amla was walking forward and at times well across his stumps and hitting the ball through the vacancies on the on side, regardless of where the Australians bowled. By the time the last hour started, Smith and Amla were so entrenched in their attack, that even as the Australians improved their line and length by increments and it was too late. Too many runs came from short deliveries and just like sharks, once they were feasting they became so bold that none of the Australians were safe, even if they were sitting on the beach.

Australia, who had responded in the first two Tests to South African pressure, by pushing back with their own and burying their more fancied opponents under an avalanche of runs. The South Africans didn't rise to number one by luck and its not hard to imagine they sensed the disruption caused by the emotional burden of Ponting's announcements and chose their moment to attack. With Steyn creating the spell of the series and Australia on their knees, it was the soft underbelly - their green, leaderless attack - which Smith and Amla stuck their boots in.

Smith was out with twenty minutes left, when Starc got a short ball to get big on him and it took his hook shot high on the blade and Nathan Lyon took a Glen McGrath diving special running at full tilt. Mitch Johnson had earlier held a spectacular caught bowled to remove Petersen but everything in between was completely forgettable. Lyon underlined the fact by dropping the new man, Jacques Kallis in the next over at cover point.

Amla finished one from his hundred, a century that would have been in one session, a feat performed on the same ground nearly forty years ago by Doug Walters. It was at times unconventional but his stroke play showed the audacity that wins Test matches and in this case, series. South Africa's blood bath netted 206 in a 32 over last session and their day's work has won them the series.

Perhaps Clarke will slightly change his pre-game statement after the game. Instead of doing it for Ricky, they may well do it because of him. You would think a man who likes to parade his humility at every opportunity might have left his announcement until after such an important game.