Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Aus vs RSA Day 1: Keep your mouth shut!

341-9 on a docile pitch after electing to bat would appear to be a sub par score. On the other hand, having been 15-3 at one stage, Australia might consider it a great recovery. On a third hand, having been 164-3 and in total control, they might have been looking at 500. On a fourth hand, having then been 166-5 with an out of form Symonds fresh at the crease, 341-9 looks good again. But on a fifth hand, having climbed to 259-5 in commanding fashion, it represents a collapse. And on the sixth and final hand, having been 303-8, with an expected 6 or 7 overs remaining, perhaps it is a good score after all.

That set of hands really tells the story of the day's play. You'll hear people say that it ebbed and flowed, with each side gaining the advantage at different times. However if truth be told, the only advantage that was gained was the first one, in the first 45 minutes of play. Each subsequent one was spectacularly lost by one team, not gained by the other.

Australia started well by winning the toss, and Steyn and Ntini were bowling the wrong lengths and lines, though at least the latter was attempting to pitch the ball somewhere near the batsman. Hayden looked in complete command, playing some cracking straight drives on both sides, before Ntini changed the angle, went round the wicket, and inexplicably lured the opener into a soft prod outside off, presenting Smith with the easiest of catches at first slip.

By this point, it was already clear that the pitch was something of a featherbed. Good carry, decent bounce, but essentially a perfect batting track. Justin Langer was drooling in the commentary box above my head. In strode Ricky Ponting, and not being a fan, I was concerned that he was on his way to a massive hundred. I needn't have worried. First ball, he pushed hard, and perhaps a touch late, at a ball outside off stump, and the edge flew low to de Villiers, who took what I thought at the time was a really good catch.

Hussey survived the hat-trick, but then became the first, and perhaps only, Australian batsman to fall victim to quality cricket. Steyn angled one across him, on a perfect line and length, and Hussey had to play at it. He duly edged, the ball landing a few feet short of de Villiers at third slip, thanks to Hussey's softening of the hands. Or at least, that's what everyone in the ground thought was happening, only for de Villiers to quite brilliantly dive forward from third slip and take a truly stupendous catch. The last player I saw taking catches like that was Carl Hooper. I don't know how much airtime the replay got on TV (it got a fair few on the big screen at the WACA), but I hope it got the credit it deserved. It doesn't look as spectacular as many so-called classic catches, but it really was one of the best catches you will ever see.

Unfortunately, that was one of the few pieces of good bowling from South Africa on the day. Steyn was too short, even being wided 3 times in the process, Ntini never looked threatening, Kallis was disastrous, and only Morkel of the pacemen looked to have the ability to make something happen on a dead track, varying his pace, line and length intelligently at times.

Clarke and Katich batted nervously at first, presumably because of the situation, but soon realised how friendly the pitch was, and once they were set, it looked like there was nothing that could get them out. The only threat posed was by one Paul Harris delivery that accidentally turned and bounced, much to the bemusement of everyone, I'm sure.

Speaking of Harris, he fast became a cult hero of the WACA crowd. He had a mild case of the yips with his bowling run up, stopping several times in mid-run. Not something you see often from a spinner. The real comedy moment, which earned him eternal adulation from the fans, was when he ran in and stopped for the third time. Only this time, he looked to be a in a bit of a panic, pointing feverishly in his mouth and almost appearing to choke. Indeed, it transpired that while running in with his mouth wide open, he had swallowed a fly. No spiders around to catch the fly, and I suspect he kept his mouth well shut thereafter.

There was also a comedy moment from Kallis, his entire bowling spell apart, when he warmed up to bowl for the first time and sent his practice delivery, aimed at mid-off, about 20 feet behind him in the direction of mid-wicket instead.

The Katich-Clarke partnership was only broken by the efforts of Aleem Dar. Apparently Hawkeye suggests that he may have been correct, but my birds-eye viewpoint says that he was a little too eager to give Katich lbw when nailed by a low full toss from Morkel, who was bowling round the wicket and angling it down leg. In fact, he was so eager, that he raised his finger completely in conjunction with the bowler's half-hearted appeal. It was a shocker, no matter what Hawkeye says - you could see that the South Africans were surprised as well.

A combination of smart captaincy and batsman stupidity then accounted for Clarke. Smith brought in the long-off, to try and tempt Clarke to hit Harris over the top instead of milking singles. He tried it the very next ball. It didn't work.

Symonds and Haddin then came together and consolidated by upping the tempo considerably - with some early edges and later lusty blows. However, the Smith-Harris combination then trapped Symonds. Smith had Harris move to bowling over the wicket, outside leg stump. Symonds hit the first one through mid-wicket for four, and then tried to repeat next delivery, only to top edge high to mid-on.

Haddin was then a victim of the new ball, a Mark Boucher adjustment to the field, and yet another ridiculous shot. Slashing with rooted feet at a wide loosener off the second delivery of the second new ball, when Boucher has specifically had the man at point pushed deep is a bad idea, and Duminy was grateful to get on the scoresheet on debut.

Steyn then bounced Lee out (Ian O'Brien can tell you how that worked out), and then Morkel applied the coup-de-grace with another Aleem Dar assisted lbw off the final delivery of the evening, leaving the match perfectly poised.

A sub-par score on a flat track means that there is probably enough in the South African batting to post a competitive total, and take this game into at least a 4th day, which will make the expense of this years membership well worthwhile :-)

And for the interested, a chronology of my day:

  • 0215hrs -- alarm goes off. pack lunch, load car up with chair and cushions
  • 0245hrs -- head out to the WACA on empty roads, trying really hard to keep to the speed limit
  • 0305hrs -- arrive at the WACA. #4 in the queue this year, behind ex CI-er Dave, and my American buddy Rick from Sonoma, whom I met in the Members queue at the WACA 2 years ago for the Ashes Test. Two Americans (if you count me) as part of the first four people in line to watch an Australia South Africa Test match at the WACA... what are the odds?
  • 0400hrs -- curse myself for waking up so early - there's less interest in this Test than there was in the India Test last year, nad I could clearly have slept in an extra hour and still been at the front.
  • 0430hrs -- feel a little better as the crowd starts to trickle in
  • 0600hrs -- a new innovation, a coffee, tea and hot chocolate van - congratulations to the WACA for figuring this one out at long last.
  • 0800hrs -- round one of gates opening, and we can move up to the turnstiles
  • 0830hrs -- loyalty (40 years) and high attendee members are let in first, they have a separate queue. This is the moment to enjoy watching 90 year olds with walking sticks outrun Usain Bolt. It's pheneomenal stuff. The poor security guards are nearly trampled in the process, as always.
  • 0845hrs -- got my seat, just about. There's about 10 seats which I consider worthwhile, and I managed to snag the 8th one. Couldn't have asked for a better place from which to watch the Test match.
  • 1000hrs -- sitting there and wondering why all the South Africans are congratulating Duminy. Looks like he's playing - but can't tell who's injured.
  • 1130hrs -- feels like bedtime, but at last the cricket is starting!
I shall be sleeping in tonight. I think getting there for 4:30am on Day 2 should do the trick.

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