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Monday, February 24, 2014

How? Why? Rogers & Warner give Australia 4th innings solid foundation before meltdown gifts Test to South Africa: T2D4

South Africa  423 & 5/270dec (64ov, Amla 127*/176b/16x4, deKock 34, Johnson 2/51, Siddle 2/89) def Australia 246 & 216 (73.4ov, Rogers 107/237b/12x4, Warner 66/73b/1x6 9x4, Steyn 20-5-55-4, Philander 2/39, Elgar 1/24, Duminy 1/33, Morkel 1/46) by 231 runs; T2/3 D4/5 at Port Elizabeth. Series 1-1 ith one to play.

After South Africa, propelled by Hashim Amla's emphatic return to form, had declared and set Australia an unlikely, probably impossible,  448 to win, Chris Rogers and David Warner took up the challenge adding 126 before Warner fell, and the rest of the batting melted down.

This was an embarrassing shambles of a response.

With heavy rain forecast for D5 Australia needed at least to survive until the end of the day and keep their fingers crossed for what would have been an unmerited draw. But it didn't happen. South Africa, minus a frontline bowler injured, and Morne Morkel hit out of the attack by Warner, persisted and broke the back of Australia's middle and lower order batting to sweep to a massive series levelling victory.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

South Africa continue on road to victory as Amla shines: T2D3

South Africa 423 & 4/192 (47ov, Amla 93*/126b/12x4, Johnson 2/48, Siddle 2/53) lead Australia 246 (57ov, Warner 70/76b/10x4, Smith 49/72b/8x4, Johnson 27, Harris 26, Morkel 3/63, Philander 3/68, Parnell 2/31) by 369 runs with 6 2nd inns wkts in hand; T2/3 D3/5 at Port Elizabeth.

South Africa continued to dominate,  with the quick bowlers maintaining the pressure on a brittle Australia batting lineup. David Warner fell early, Nathan Lyon soon after: at 6/128 all looked lost. P

Even after Steve Smith (given out by a third umpire blunder) rallied the lower order (Brad Haddin excepted) the 118 added for the last four wickets avoided the prospect of the follow on but did little to change the impression that Australia are heading for a comprehensive beating.

South Africa's second innings batting reinforced  this. While Graeme Smith failed again Hashim Amla made up for his first Test shortcomings with a scintillating knock which blunted Australia's attack. Smith will probably allow Amla, 93* overnight, to complete a well deserved century before declaring.

Australia has no chance of winning:  its best hope of a draw is that the weather forecast of 35mm of rain on D5 is accurate. If that happens we can count ourselves very lucky. 

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Australia hit brick walls as South Africa counterattack with bat and ball: T2D2

Australia 4/112 (25ov, Warner 65*/67b/10x4, Parnell 6-2-19-2, Philander 6-0-26-2) trail South Africa 423 (150.5ov, Duminy 123/231b/14x4, deVilliers 116/232b/1x6 14x4, Lyon 46-7-130-5) by 311 runs with 6 1st inns KR's in hand; T2/3 D/5 at Port Elizabeth.

It wasn't surprising to see AB deVilliers go on to make a century, but it was to see JP Duminy, whose place in the team has looked less than cemented, do the same. The pair stayed together for the entire first session adding 109 which, made Sourh Africa more secure, if not yet in a commanding position. 

Australia's  quick bowlers looked ordinary against high quality batting. Duminy took the early lead with some pugnacious strokes but deVilliers, looking very much the no 1 ranked batsman in the world, played for the most part with cultivated restraint, hitting out every so often. He was a delight to watch, not that I was disappointed to a see him, early in the afternoon session, hit a return catch to Nathan Lyon who, if he hadn't exactly troubled AB, had kept him on a shorter leash than the quicker bowlers.

JP  continued  after AB's departure, accumulating steadily without cutting loose. The 31 overs bowled in the session produced 3/90, and took the total past 400, which seemed enough given that South Africa need to force a win to remain in the series. Yet Graeme Smith seemed to want to wear the Australians, who had already bowled 148 overs before tea, down (and out). In any event the innings only lasted a further 15 balls, Lyon taking a fifth wicket from his 46 overs of hard slog (and some spin).
At that point fatigue overcame me and I fell asleep. 

It was a rude awakening later in the morning  to learn that Australia had slumped to 4/112 from the 25 overs they faced. Watching the Foxtel highlights it became clear that they were lucky not to have lost more wickets. Once again David Warner benefited from being dropped while Lyon (why was he sent in as night watchman after bowling so many overs?) was fortunate that the Proteas opted not to review what hotspot indicated was a thin edge off Dale Steyn to the wicketkeeper. 

Steyn went wicketless but was hostile, as in their different ways were the other quicks. Vernon Philander and, a real eye opener, Wayne Parnell each took a brace of wickets but the four of them showed Australia a thing or three about how to bowl on a relatively lifeless wicket,

We've seen so e impressive Australian batting recoveries in the last few Tests, but it's asking a lot for yet another one here. This Test looks lost.

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Friday, February 21, 2014

South Africa revive then falter in face of dogged Australia bowling: T2 D1.

South Africa 5/214 (83ov, Elgar 83/193b/2x6 9x4, duPlessis 55/126b/1x6 5x4, deVilliers 51*/126b/7x4, Lyon 23-6-47-2, Harris 18-5-36-1, Johnson 15-2-44-1, Siddle 21-6-61-0, Smith 4-0-18-1) v Australia; T2/3 D1/5 at Port Elizabeth. South Africa won toss and choose to bat.South 

At 2/11, with Graeme Smith, who had at least made a good decision to bat after winning his second toss in a row, and Hashim Amla, both out lbw, South Africa were in strife. But help came from an unexpected source - Dean Elgar - who, pressed into service as an opener, gutsed out 83 before yielding to Nathan Lyon's pressure.

 Not surprisingly Faf duPlessis and, as expected, AB deVilliers, did their bit to give South Africa grounds to hope for a competitive total on a pitch which, after the shine had worn off the new ball, played very slowly. What a competitive total might be remains to be seen. At 2/11 it looked like 150 or so; now it looks like more than 350.

A few balls at the start excepted, the conditions didn't assist Mitchell Johnson, who therefore sensibly dropped his pace a little (but not too much). All the frontline Australian bowlers bowled quite well in the circumstances, with Lyon particularly effective, and Steve Smith, not yet in the frontline category, taking the bonus wicket of  debutant Quinton de Kock, who looked what he has hitherto been: a short form specialist.

On paper Australia look to have the upper hand, but if you factor in a not out deVilliers and a pitch where runs can be scored, albeit not easily, the Test looks more evenly poised after bad light curtailed the first day. 

There may not be much in the away of fireworks in prospect on his wicket, but a tight struggle (which deserves a better crowd than on D1)   should continue. 

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Thursday, February 20, 2014

McCullum's feat and great, the more so for being unexpected, NZ recovery.

Brendon McCullum's 302 -the highest individual innings ever by a New Zealander in a Test match- deserves acknowledgement, indeed high praise,  as a masterpiece of judicious batting, concentration and endurance. He, with considerable support from an obdurate BJ Watling and, as the immediate threat of defeat receded, a more fluent Test debutant Jimmy Neesham, turned the match and series around. 

A draw may have been a bit anticlimactic, but it did give the series to NZ 1-0 and show several things, notably (which we already knew) that India are below par away from home, and that NZ at their best and at home are a formidable force in the long form of the game.

Well done, Black Caps.

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Monday, February 17, 2014

Johnson again leads Australia to convincing win as S Africa fold on crumbling pitch: T1 D4

Australia 397 & 4/290 dec (72.2ov, Warner 115, Doolan 89, Marsh 44) def South Africa    206 & 200 (59.4ov, deVilliers 48, Amla 35, Johnson 16-3-59-5, Harris 2/35, Siddle 2/55) by 281 runs; T1/3 D4/5 at Centurion. Australia lead series 1-0.

It didn't take Michael Clarke long to decide that the pitch was continuing to deteriorate and therefore that Australia's lead was big enough. After 21 deliveries, 2 runs (a wide and a leg bye) and Shaun Marsh's wicket he declared, setting South Africa an unlikely 482 to win. While there's been a very recent example of this happening - Queensland chasing down 470 to beat South Australia by 5 wickets in a Sheffied Shield fixture- the state of the Centurion wicket, not to mention the quality of the Australia bowling (and fielding) consigned any such hope to the realm of dreams.

Yes, Australia bowled and caught well, with Mitchell Johnson again outstanding, but South Africa had no chance as the ball came through at varying heights. Faf duPlessis was lbw to a grubber then Hashim Amla and AB deVilliers toughed it out for a time, and there was some resistance from the lower order,but any result other than a win to the visitors never looked likely. If anything South Africa, after losing early wickets, did well to reach 200. 

So, a huge victory to Australia. How much was it magnified by Graeme Smith's decision to field first? He clearly misjudged the wicket's staying power, but in his decision there may have been an element of hubris, of we're much better than England, we're playing at home so we'll put the Aussies back in their box.  

The old cliche "a good toss to lose" certainly applied here, but the Proteas underperformed in spades. Some like duPlessis were unlucky in their dismissals but the bowling was below par - and that standard is now set by Australia.

So where to from here? It's hard to see Australia having another cushy victory such as this, and yet South Africa may be rattled after this crushing, and unexpected, loss. If Shane Watson is fit it will create a dilemma for the selectors, but I think he should play to provide a fifth bowling option, something which wasn't required at Centurion, is always handy against a team with batsmen of the stature of deVilliers and Amla.

<a href=""> Scorecard </a>

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Johnson completes destruction of South Africa, then Warner & Doolan build huge lead: T1D3

Australia 397 & 3/288 (69ov, Warner 115/ 151b/2x6 13x4, Doolan 89/154b/1x6 12x4, Marsh 44*) lead South Africa 206 (61.1ov, deVilliers 91/148b/2x6 10x4, Duminy 25, Johnson 17.1-1-68-7) by 479 runs with 7 2nd inns wkts in hand; T1/3 D3/5 at Centurion.

Another commanding performance by Mitchell Johnson with the ball gave David Warner and Alex Doolan an  opportunity to bat South Africa out of the Test and set up a win for Australia. By adding 205 for the second wicket they have almost certainly done the former and, with the pitch playing unevenly, will quite likely, weather permitting, achieve the latter objective.

South Africa's modest first innings was held together by AB deVilliers, the only one of the team to play Johnson with any consistent confidence, competence and courage. Without him the Proteas would not have got anywhere near the follow on (even though Michael Clarke ould probably not have enforced it). As it was 191 behind and to bat last was a very poor look.

When Australia batted again an early wicket to Dale Steyn was a reality check of sorts, but Warner, cautiously  pugnacious (by his standards) kept the score moving while Doolan, as Tom Moody put it on TV,  moved in his partner's slipstream. Well as Warner batted he was aided and abetted by some poor fielding. Doolan had looked quite good in making 27 in the first innings, and took his match aggregate beyond 100 with a mature looking second knock.

In the face of this accumulation the South Africa attack dropped a couple of gears. The TV broadcaster showed a graph of their seamers which revealed that only 5% of their combined deliveries were on the wicket. The pitch map looked as if it had been spattered with grapeshot. Surely it hasn't always been thus?

While it's hard to conceive South Africa winning from here, the recollection of the 2012 Adelaide Test where Faf du Plessis led a doughty rearguard action which secured a draw, is a reminder of the home team's potential. On that occasion Australia were a bowler short because of injury. So far in this match the only injuries have occurred have been to Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. What if Johnson was incapacitated? Interesting thought ...and worrying prospect. Yet on the evidence of D3 it's hard to see this Centurion pitch holding up as well as the 2012 Adelaide one did.

<a href="">Scorecard </a>

Friday, February 14, 2014

Johnson reprises Ashes bowling form to rattle South Africa: T1D2

South Africa 6/140 (43.3ov, deVilliers 52*/94b/1x6 4x4, Johnson 13.3-1-51-4) trail Australia 397 (122ov, Marsh 148/288b/15x4, S Smith 100/213b/13x4, Johnson 33, Steyn 29-6-78-4, Peterson 2/49, McLaren 2/72) by 257 with 4 1st inns wkts in hand: T1/3 D2/5 at Centurion.

Another Australia - or Mitchell Johnson - day . South Africa had a good moment or two in the almost empty stadium: one after they'd  worked through the remaining Australia batting, another when they drew breath at the end of a battering day with AB deVilliers still at the crease, and looking good.

In between it was Johnson who ripped the top order asunder with an exhilaratingly (from an Australian perspective) ferocious (from everyone's perspective)  81 balls. Graeme Smith was tied up in knots        ( look for pics/video of his looping catch to slip) while Alviro Petersen, Faf du Plessis - the find of the last Proteas' tour of Australia - and Ryan McLaren looked out of their depth.

Yes, Johnson bowled very well, but Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and ( particularly compared to the South African spinners) Nathan Lyon supported him well. I hope that none of them breaks down (but also that Australia thinks hard about who might be able to bowl a few supporting overs if required by injury or a match situation.

We mustn't forget that Shaun Marsh and  Steve Smith's 233 fifth wicket partnership gave Australia a good foundation for what looks like a probable victory. The wicket is sometimes keeping low, even to Johnson, so circumspection will be order of the day for the remaining batters - of both sides.

<a href="">Scorecard </a>

Thursday, February 13, 2014

199* Marsh-Smith partnership revives Australia after early wobble: T1D1

Australia 4/197 (90ov, Marsh 122*/132b/12x4, Smith 91*/179b/12x4): T1/3 D1/5 at Centurion.
South Africa won toss and sent Australia in.

The series started well for South Africa, whose pace attack, not unexpectedly given their collective and individual reputations,shone in the first session and a bit before Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith wrested the initiative with a very impressive partnership. Australia are in a good position with runs on the board, wickets in hand,  and Brad Haddin still to bat.

Before the match started Foxtel showed extended highlights of the 2009 SAf - Aust series. What I saw there reinforced my opinion that Phil Hughes should be included in the XI. What I saw live told me that I'd underestimated  Marsh - he showed that he's no yesterday's man. Smith also impressed, but then over the last few Tests he'd shown a lot of evidence of maturing as a Test batter.

Well as Marsh and Smith batted against good pace bowling on a wicket  eased as the day went on, the South African spinners Robin Peterson and J-P Duminy looked ordinary. It will be interesting to see how Nathan Lyon fares when his turn comes.

Question: Why were there so few spectators? 

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Top Test Teams's Tussle about to begin

In a few hours South Africa and Australia will begin another Test series. I and many others believe the three matches will, no matter what the ICC ratings may say, determine the true top Test team in the world.

This has only happened of course because Australia has just walloped  England 5-0 and grabbed back the Ashes. Its record in the 2013 series preceding that- 0-4 away to India and 0-3 in England - hardly suggested a resurgence of Ashes clean sweep proportions. Which makes me wonder whether the Ashes triumph was, if not an aberration, then an exaggerated reflection of the true state of affairs.

And, on the eve of this series, some of the old uncertainties have re- emerged: injuries and perceived deficiencies (read George Bailey) compelling a rethinking of the team structure and selectors preferring their gut feeling ( or Western Australian affiliations) to their stated position that current form trumps all (eg Phil Hughes).

So the Australian XI for T1 will have a different batting look ( even though as I write  it is yet to be announced)  while the bowling attack will probably remain the same as in the Ashes: Johnson, Harris, Siddle and Lyon. Not a bad group, provided they all remain fit.

South Africa may well start favourites: Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel are world class players. But Jacques Kallis - one of the great Test all rounders (even if IMO not as good as Garfield Sobers) - has retired. He is, in the immediate term at least,  irreplaceable by one player.

So, some very interesting questions will be posed shortly and answers, some if not all, provided, weather permitting over the next few days.