Day 1 of the second test between South Africa and Australia was one of the most bizarrely exciting days of test cricket you've probably missed this year.
The drama began early with South Africa losing Philander with back spasms before the game. Australia won the toss and understandably chose to bat looking to expose a depleted Saffers attack. After the first 10 overs they were going at a reasonable rate given the short boundaries, until they lost three wickets for just 14 runs.
Kallis removing Cowan and Ponting in quick succession, with some good late swing bowling, leaving the home side reeling on 55-3.
Tellingly for Saffers the All rounder suffered a hamstring strain into only his 4th over, which could see him not bowl for the remainder of the test. South Africa were down to 10 men once again, and losing Kallis would prove to be telling factor for them.
But, with Morkel and Steyn in their usual threatening mood, the South Africans initially looked to not let the loss get to them. Morkel nailed the incoming Australian captain flush on the temple with a brilliant bouncer, Warner flashed his way to a chancy fifty to take the Aussies to lunch at 102-3 (Warner 67* & Clarke 18*). The game was evenly poised, despite the Kallis injury.
What happened after lunch was nothing short of surreal. What the scorecard isn't capable of showing those who didn't watch the game was what made the passage of play so gripping. I shall attempt to recall the sequence of events. If I've missed something please forgive me for I am somewhat perplexed.
Smith loses psychological edge after lunch
After Tahir had bowled a poor first over which went for 10 runs, Smith prematurely brought his front line spinner out the attack, replacing him with the part time spin of Du Plesis.
The decision backfired in spectacular fashion as not only did it deflate the leg spinner but offered weakness on a plate to Warner & Clarke. Both batsmen smelled blood and went for the jugular. When Smith sheepishly brought Tahir back on after Du Plesis went for 11 runs, the flood gates well and truly opened. Warner raced to his 3rd test century from just 93 balls, with Clarke playing second fiddle, but not for long. They say at this level talent whilst a pre-requisite plays second fiddle to temperament and mentality. For ten overs or so South Africa all but lost theirs, laying their arms down and surrendering.
The Australians went from 102-3 from 25 overs to 200-3 in the 35th over! The Saffers skipper has always lead by example, unfortunately on day 1 of this test it was the wrong kind. By the time the Australian Tsunami of runs had subsided, two centuries and a double hundred had been scored in a single day with the score swelling to 482-5 ! They'll need to wrestle back the initiative, on day two and news of Kallis being able to bat will be welcome indeed.
Clarke's nine lives
Any criticism of Clarke may sound almost blasphemous to Australian fans but those who saw his innings will admit Clarke's innings was almost schizophrenic in nature.
One minute he was smashing 5 boundaries off a Morkel over regardless of length/line. The next his play and a miss dance routine against Kleinveldt of all people was a strange but regular occurrence. I also stopped counting inside edges for four after the fifth occasion against a confused Morkel. To Clarke's credit he pressed on effortlessly finishing on 224* at the close of play. Deserves of all the praise he certainly is, his record this year has been staggering! On this day however he certainly rode his luck on more than one occasion. Only time will tell if he's used up all his luck on day one, because if he hasn't, Lara's record of 400 could be in sight.
Tahir's commentator's curse
Tahir came into the test side on Smith's wrong side. Voices from inside the camp had suggested he was not in the best of form and when the tourists were forced into his insertion it so proved. But not before the dreaded commentator's curse was struck by none other than Ritchie Benaud.
The legendary commentator boldly declared as Tahir took the ball after lunch, that he'd never seen the leg spinner bowl badly. Tahir then bowled his worst spell of bowling for South Africa. He wasn't helped by a non responsive pitch and Clarke in the form of his life. He finished on 0-159 off 21 overs, jaw dropping figures indeed. But then again this was no ordinary day. It's not often a side scores close to 500 on the first day. One thing is for sure, with 4 days remaining the likelihood of a draw has been obliterated.
Why not join the conversation and follow Rana on @rararana for more fun and games tonight for Day 2.
image: © rick212