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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Australia just scrape home to level Test "series" : T2D5

Australia 296  & 8/310  (86.5 ov, Khawaja 65, Ponting 62, Haddin 55, Philander 5/70) beat South Africa 266 & 339  by 2 wickets: T2/2 D5/5 at Johannesburg. Series tied 1-1.

You couldn't ask for a much more riveting day's play in any form of cricket (or any sport). Fortunes, as they've done throughout the match, fluctuated.  South Africa broke through early before some gritty Australian defiance, punctuated by some gut wrenching wobbles, took the visitors over the victory line.

For a while it looked, despite the optimistic comments of those on the spot, as if the weather might prevent any, or sufficient, play to reach a result other than a draw (there were moments when I, like Mark Waugh who said on Fox Sports that  a 0-1 series was better than a 0-2 one, would have settled for that).

Yet play did get under way after lunch and proceeded without interruption until the finish. I was expecting umpires Bowden and Gould to, as they'd done on each of the previous days, call play off earlier than the commentators thought was justified. As the tension mounted there was still a lot of blue sky in evidence, yet when the TV caught Billy Bowden sneaking a look at his light meter I thought "uh oh, here we go again". But to his credit Billy for once decided that people wanted to watch the teams play, not him umpire.(By "people" I mean TV viewers as there were - something which would not have been so at any Test venue in Australia - hardly any spectators at the ground until the gates were thrown open) .

Initially South Africa laid some punches on the Australians but couldn't deliver a knockout blow. Vernon Philander nipped one back to clip Michael Clarke's off stump for 2  - 4/145 - and Morne Morkel had Ricky Ponting, who'd  added 8/34b to his overnight tally ,  caught in the slips for 62/138b (6x 4) attempting a cut, half the side-  on paper the better half - were out for not much more than half the runs required: 5/165.

It was hard going from there but Brad Haddin and Mike Hussey held firm, adding 50 together, until just before tea when Philander had Hussey, who'd looked the more assured of the pair, lbw (upheld on review)  for  a handy but not commanding 39/77b (3x4). 6/215. Mitchell Johnson joined Haddin and the pair stayed until tea when South Africa, having taken 4/80 from the 34 overs bowled in the session, looked comfortably on top.

Yet Australia regained the initiative in the first two overs after tea as Haddin, a determined though occasionally flashy 24*/69 at that point, took 9 from Philander's opening over.  11 (2x4,1x1, 1w, 1lb) came off the next, bowled by Steyn and suddenly it was 68 needed.

A double bowling change, Imran Tahir replacing Philander and Morne Morkel Steyn. Tahir conceded 5 (all singles), then Morkel bowled a maiden, slowing things down... for the moment. Haddin and Johnson, both aware of the impending new ball, continued to look for runs, taking 54 from the first 9 overs bowled after tea.

So the new ball taken after 80 overs was South Africa's last chance. Once again Philander struck, as Haddin edged him to the keeper for 55/106 (7x4): 7/287. Then Steyn, not as quick as I've known him to be, removed Peter Siddle - one good stroke for 4 then a wishy washy drive to mid on: 8/292 and South Africa back in the stronger position.

Johnson was going well, but Pat Cummins? Well he didn't let the side down (though I'd have said otherwise had Steyn accepted a sharp return catch which went for 4) and, fittingly  for Australia's latest sporting hero, he hit the winning runs, a boundary off Tahir, recalled at a minute to midnight for both sides (despite being under threat of a ban for repeated running on the wicket) who'd gone very close to getting him lbw two balls before.
Johnson, who didn't worry too much about shielding the younger man from the strike, contributed 4 to the 18 the pair added, finishing with 40*/47b (6x4).

Test matches don't come much better than this. It was compelling viewing throughout, even approaching 0200 in these parts (on days 4 & 5 anyway - on the others I was happy to wait for the highlights).

Fox Sports highlights


Some further thoughts

The real disappointment absurdity about the situation is that the series is was too short. Many other cricket followers have made this point, so let's hope that the authorities (the ICC and the various national controlling bodies) do something about it.

In particular, should Ricky Ponting call it a day? I'm a confirmed Ponting fan and though I thought that his position would be shaky if he didn't make runs in this Test, I now feel he's done enough to hold his place for the immediate future (read the rest of this Test summer). As they say (though my belief in its validity has been tested these last weeks) form is temporary, class is permanent.

The Age's Greg Baum, after prematurely writing off Australia   in T2 ("by the end of this match the national team will have won just two of their past 12 Tests, as bleak a sequence as any in its history...") has shifted his ground a little in this assessment of Ricky Ponting

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