Tag Archives: South Africa v Australia 2011

Scaling the Heights, Balancing the probabilities. South Africa v Australia Test 2 Part 2

It was high drama in the Bull Ring as the action careered towards its arresting conclusion, a cliff to be scaled to its consequence; to fail and fall or prevail and glimpse the belvedere.

Drama is a product of prize and doubt, its venue the edge, its permanent state imbalance.

The prize for Australia, as the second Test in this mini-series reached its conclusion, was a win to draw the series, a foundation lain for national renewal, no less.  That for South Africa, with a win or a draw, was victory over their opponents in a series for the first time since readmission into the Test playing family ten long years ago. 

The doubt was supplied by rain that washed out the extended morning session’s and the uncertainty of the light that had foreshortened each earlier day’s play – the heartbeat accelerated by the manner in which these two teams have gone at their tasks like old explorers anxious for honour, short of their former strength, but intent on clawing themselves to the summit in conditions that made batting as precarious and provisional as ice climbing.

In fact there were more spectators on the terrace of the Hotel Eiger to watch the first ascent of the North Face than there were yesterday in the un-populated expanses of the Wanderers Stadium where, in true cliff-hanger style, all four outcomes were possible.

When play began Clarke’s top-rope severed, cut through by Philander, sending his off stump crashing to the valley floor.

Shortly there after, stubborn Ponting, rationing his concentration for all he was worth, tackled another pitch but, weighed down by a rucksack of misgivings, edged Philander to slip.

The starting goal of 168 meters runs with seven in hand had, in a flash, moved up a grade or two to 145 with five remaining – an overhang to climb.

Hussey and Haddin roped up and belayed securely to the rock face, dismissed time as of no consequence, and resolved to get there one handhold after another.

In the match ’til then, only four pairings had held the hazards at bay long enough to lift the score by three figures and more. Each had threatened to make the break through to the uplands only to fall.   Now, a fifth such partnership would bag the peak prize.  Or two of half a hundred?

With the score advanced by exactly fifty , Hussey, became another casualty, the ball pitching one third outside leg stump but two thirds within the line of the stumps struck him in front like a falling stone – such are the margins between safety and downfall.

Haddin, slipshod of late, continued the ascent, with surer feet, hand over hand, hold after flaking hold, with Johnson roped tightly to him.

After tea (energized by Kendal mint cake), Brad and Mitch untied themselves, and climbing free, sped across the difficulties, scoffing at the objective dangers, the ice towers and the avalanches.

Almost immediately after reaching his half-century and with the summit in sight,  Haddin became Philander’s fifth wicket and the issue steepened for Australia.  The lurch to the precipice continued as Steyn removed Siddle, bringing Cummins to the crux – 18 more strides, one for each year of his young life, gasping for oxygen, two wickets intact.

A month ago Cummins would have been batting No 8, skipping across the lowland approaches to Test cricket in the under18s.  He now climbed into the attack as if he was still down there, unencumbered by a Ponting’s rucksack of doubt, his mind untroubled by vertigo.  Only a reckless drive that slipped through the outstretched hands of Steyn caused a moment of hesitation. Then on and up.

Thus to Cummins, standing at the pinnacle, fell the honour both of planting Ivor Ivan’s flag which he did with a fearless boundary off Tahir, and to him also the acolade of Man of the Match in his first Test.

This was a great five days of cricket.

To the embarrassingly few who were there in person to watch, it will last in the memory, arguably, long after Test cricket has gone the way of all things, buffeted by the jet stream.

There was much talk and a number of banners mocking the greatly exaggerated news of the death of Test cricket. But …

Great as this match was, the question remains, for how long will this minority occupation continue to hold the support of those who directly and indirectly cross-subsidize it?  Perpetually eroded by sibling rivalry from the shorter forms of the game, could Test cricket withstand twenty years of austerity?

With more doubts than prizes, is this form of the game on the edge? That questions remains in the balance.

Australia won by 2 wickets

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Maximum Altitude, Maximum Attitude: South Africa v Australia 2nd Test Part 1

55 cm or close on two feet.  That was the distance by which Bob Beamon,  competing in the 1968 Olympic long jump final in Mexico City (altitude 2240 meters above sea level), smashed the world record. 

The jump was of such unanticipated length that it was beyond the range of the optical measuring mechanism and an old fashioned tape measure had to found to record the distance of 29 feet, 2.5 inches.

That day, no other jumper got near Beamon and his record stood for 23 years.

Johannesburg, where the second Test in the two match series between South Africa and Australia began five days ago, is located on the high veld at 1750 m.

At these heights the air is thinner and resistance lower.  Hits go further, balls go quicker and they swing later. But as the Beamon jump indicates, the effects of altitude are neither consistent nor predictable.  It’s cricket with altitude.

Things are made even less easy in November as patchy weather can make it difficult for groundsmen to get their preparations right and changeable cloud coverage add to the potential for sideways movement.

No surprise then that 33 wickets have fallen in four days and that there have so far only been four significant partnerships in the match – one per innings.

In SA’s first innings of 266, de Villiers and Prince put on 112 runs and their last six wickets fell for 15. Australia’s openers Watson (88) and Hughes (88) posted 174 but the remaining batsmen could only muster 122 more to them a slender lead of 30 runs.

In the third innings of the match, Amla (105) and deVilliers (73) scored 147 together in the side’s total of 339 which asked Australia to make an extremely competitive 310 to win.

The visitors were in deep trouble at 19 for 2 before Khawaja (65) and Ponting (not out 54) set the match up for a gripping final day with a partnership of 122.

It has therefore been a match of four partnerships interspersed between calamitous conditions – matching the comings and goings of sun and cloud.

Only now on the fifth morning has play been disrupted by rain and, with an hour needed get the players on the field once the rain stops to, Australia’s time to get the 168 runs they need to level the series is shrinking as fast as a woollen vest washed on Programme 8 – Stubborn Steyns (sic).

For spectators now inured to fielders throwing in on-the-bounce to scuff the ball for reverse swing, the clue has been that not a single throw from anywhere, from any player of either side has bounced before being carefully pouched and buffed in the specially designed soft kidskin-covered gloves of Boucher and Haddin.

Back in the hands of Steyn (career strike rate of a wicket every 39 balls – someway better that that for any other bowler having taken over 200 Test wickets), Philander (who in 2006 when playing for Rishton – altitude 75 m or 250 feet – in the Lancashire League made very little impression but who, at 5741 feet above sea level, is bowling beautifully), Morkel and Kallis, the Kookaburra has swung and seamed to the consternation of the batsmen.

For the Australians,  Cummins, the 18 year old debutant playing in only his fourth first class match took 6 for 79 in 29 overs in a spectacular third innings performance to realise the promise held out by his highly creditable 1 for 38 in 15 first innings overs.

Siddle has beaten the edge on numerous occasions and even Johnson using a very short run and bowling in the 130s was able to make life difficult for the batsmen.

But to the credit of the groundsman, the wicket has also helped the spinners with Lyons (an in-drifting off-spinner) taking important wickets in both innings, the under-bowled Clarke picking up two wickets and Tahir, after a nervous start, demolishing the Australian tail in the first innings and breaking a potentially matching winning partnership when finding Khawaja’s outside edge with a googly the left hander hadn’t read.

So … everyone waits for the rain to stop and for what could be a suitably competitive end to a match-up as compelling as any Olympic final. 

It’s been cricket at maximum altitude with maximum attitude.

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South Africa v Australia Test 1 Day 3: Do Not Adjust Your Set – Normal Service Will Be Resumed

Yesterday, on the second day of the first test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands, Cape Town experienced a period of atmospheric disturbance that at one time caused the ball to veer erratically to one side or the other at disconcerting pace. 

These abnormal conditions ended as suddenly and as unexpectedly as they had arrived but in that relatively brief period wickets fell like autumn leaves.  And no-one could be sure if or when such conditions might return.

The craving for stability and predictability was palpable, but Day Three was full of omens for both sides.  It was 11/11/11 and by 11 o’clock South Africa needed 111 to win.

Normalcy was a term coined by Warren Harding when campaigning in the American presidential election immediately after the First World War.

It refers to what people call normality when they can no longer take it for granted.

For Australia, normal was once the omnipotence and resilience they experienced for a sustained period – a green and golden age.  This they had appeared to rediscover when, defending a moderate score, they had taken 9 South African wickets for 47 runs in just over an hour after lunch yesterday.

Normalcy, or the new normal, is the Post Waugh/Post Galactics period, which reared back into view immediately after their defiant bowling performance when the Australian batsmen surrendered their ten wickets for 47 runs.

Dropping a straightforward chance from Amla in the gully to the last ball of the day had surrendered a huge psychological advantage and now, as Day Three began in bright and drying sunshine, they dropped him again, this time to first slip’s left.

South Africado not have to worry about adjusting to new circumstances.  They are ‘same old, same old’ and in Graeme Smith they have the best batsman in the world to accept the mission of scoring big in the fourth innings of a match.

Amla, his perfect partner, may not have been many people’s second choice for such a task but given three goes he was not about to let down his captain or his country.

His simple and effective trigger of a small right-footed step-back-and-across followed by a forward press brings him to the pitch of the ball.  He has the same kind of back lift that Bradman is said to have had.  The willow blade journeys out towards gully before circling round and down to punch or drive the ball with exquisite timing. His wrists work like Draavid’s to persuade the ball fine or to meet it full faced.  Today he threaded the field at will.

Where Smith’s innings had the single pace of a metronome, Amla’s accelerated like a toboggan on the Cresta Run.  When he was finally caught by Clarke in the gully he had made 112 and taken his side to within 14 runs of victory.  Soon after, Smith completed his deserved hundred and then struck the winning blow.

Point:  Australia began their second innings leading by the not inconsiderable margin of 188 runs (the old normal) and lost the match by the large margin of 8 wickets (the new normal).  Final Score Card.

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South Africa v Australia Test 1 Day 2a, 2b and 2c: Through the Looking Glass and What Australia & SA Found There

The First Test in this mini-series will be over by tomorrow – Day 3.  Yet in many ways it will have been a five day match.

On Day 2a, Australia resumed on 214 for 8. Clarke and Siddall, enjoying the bright day, put on a tenacious 59. Clarke was eventually last man out for a very special 151 having taken his side’s score to 284. 

South Africa duly reached 49 for 1 in the remaining hour of the extended session before lunch: gutsy Test cricket with the Proteas a nose ahead.

On Day 2c South Africa scored 81 for 1.

Third Man realises that this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that was because in Day 2b not a lot actually made sense – nineteen wickets falling for 94 runs.

As Australia made their way onto the field for the afternoon session it was if, like Alice, they had stepped through a mirror on the way out of the dressing room and entered another universe.

In the post-play press conference Clarke was to explain:  “Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves     Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:   All mimsy were ye borogoves;   And ye mome raths outgrabe.”

Through the Looking Glass,  Australia proceeded to take 9 South African wickets for 47 runs with Watson jagging the ball sideways and taking 5 / 21 – that is 5 wickets in 21 balls. 

Harry Harris picked up four and Siddell had the joy or running out Morne Morkel (no nickname necessary) with a direct hit.

However, Australia’s key mistake of the day was not finding the mirror to step back through before starting their innings. (TM blames Australia’s lack of a full time manager/coach for this.)

In Looking Glass Land everything is displayed reversed in reflection symmetry.  So it came as no surprise to those few, who were in possession of the facts, that South Africa then proceeded to bowl Australia out for precisely 47.

New boy Mats Vernon Philander took 5 for 15 in 7 overs – an experience he is unlikely to forget.   

At one point Australia’s last pair needed almost to double their side’s score inorder to avoid it being the lowest total in Test history, ever, anywhere, anyhow.

When Smith came out to bat for the second time that day, statisticians had the further  thrill (if they needed one) of witnessing for the third time in Test cricket all four innings of a match taking place on a single day. 

In their excitement they may have missed Smith and Rudolph counter attacking by stepping through the dressing room mirror back into the world that the day had begun in all those wickets ago

Here the sun was still shinning and South Africa were able to move assertively to the close of play, 155 runs behind Australia with 9 second wickets and three fifths of the match in hand, Mr Cricket having dropped a sitter off Amla on the last ball to complete his agony of a day.

It must be said that during Day 2b the bowling was very good; accurate in line and length.  Defensive caution availed not and those like Hussey, Hadden and Johnson, who threw the bat, were punished the first time they did so.

The DRS was used four times in the Australian innings 3 times at the request of the Proteas.  All four decisions went in the home side’s favour which especially pleased Ponting whose duck was the second occasion in the match that third umpire, Billy Bowden, from his little room upstairs raised his crooked finger.

Rationalists will be keeping a close eye on the weather forecast for Cape Town tomorrow – which promises more of the same.  

Irrationalists will see South Africa’s dilemma: do they smash every mirror on the ground and risk the resulting ill-luck or do they accept the hazard of accidentally straying back into Looking Glass Land?

Who said cricket was an easy game?

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South Africa v Australia Test 1, Day 1: It’s in Black and White; ‘Silence is Golden’

Over in Kotla, the old firm of Tendulka and Laxman were back in harness employing their considerable experience in Test cricket to secure victory  for India in their first five-dayer played at home this year.

In Cape Town Graeme Smith led South Africa out for their first experience in 305 days of what we are assured is the players’ preferred form of the game.

In fact the last time the Proteas played Test cricket films were silent and shot in black and white. This is a reminder to readers that in this series (because India are not involved) players can call on the full DRS facilities which include the silent (and black and white) assassin which is the ‘fess-up machine’, HOTSPOT.

Smith won the toss, felt the ball would move sideways and asked Australia to bat. His pet ridgeback, Dale Steyn, as you’d expect after being caged up for three hundred days, couldn’t get off the leash and out onto the veld soon enough, removing Watty Watson for 3, and Punter Ponting for 8, with his new bowling partner Philander reminding the Australian selectors that you do need some basic technique to play this form of the game and Hughes doesn’t have any.

This brought Clarke to the party atmosphere that is Newlands when SA are on top.  The playful bow-wow lion dog Steyn leapt up to lick his face, not once but twice and barked a lot.

It proved very misguided.  When will cricketers bowlers learn.  Some batsmen like to be gee’d up. With the ball swinging disconcertingly-late at 150 klicks and zipping off the seam, the extraordinary Clarke proceeded to play surely the best innings of his life, as ordinary cricketers like the aforementioned Watson and Ponting, and subsequently Marsh, Hussey and Hadden prodded and pushed.

Clarked reached his hundred off 108 balls and finished the day when bad light and rain spoilt the fun still going strongly with exactly half ofAustralia’s 214 for 8.  Seldom can one batsman, and a captain for that matter, have played with such conviction, such ease, such retribution when all around him was going to the dogs.

Finally the DRS worked wonders.  Umpires Gould and Doctrove had their decisions, dignity and expertise upheld.  And when a ball tore through the defences of Mr Cricket at lightening speed, the batsman waited for the decision and walked off without complaint immediately he saw the finger rise. 

He knew he’d hit it – as all batsmen do – but he also knew the evidence would soon be on the screen in black and white for all to see.

Australia, having been put into bat, are 218 for 8 in 55 overs – the game is moving apace.

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