“At the fag end of Day 1, Australia stole the show by making a crucial comeback”.
The day was just perfect; in fact, it was a merry for Test cricket lovers. Talking precisely about the bunch of people who watch and write cricket for a living, they certainly wait for such days to come more often. They woke up to day one of the pink ball Test between New Zealand and England. The morning just got better when the duo of Trent Boult and Tim Southee gave a nightmare to the touring party. As the feeling of watching England get bowled out for just 58 runs gradually sunk in the day, it was time for the second blockbuster of the day – the beginning of the third Test between Australia and South Africa.
Be it any format of cricket, these days the sport has inclined slightly in the favour of the batsmen. Gone are the days when both batsmen and bowlers were even Stevens and that was the real beauty of Test cricket. These days the setting where bowlers thoroughly dominate the batsmen is a rarity. So, when that is witnessed on the bigger level, it is a treat to watch.
Maybe, March 22, 2018, was destined to always be remembered for the bowlers in the longest format of the game. After the Boult-Southee cameo, it was time for the Australian bowling attack to put themselves in the limelight. While they were successful, their impact was not as wonderful as the BlackCaps’ pair. However, that did not overshadow their performance on the first day in Cape Town. The duo of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood led the bowling attack with four and two wickets respectively, while the others provided the required support during their respective spells.
While England found a warrior down the order in Craig Overton, who top-scored with 33 runs, South Africa found that saviour in their opening batsman Dean Elgar. Apart from him, the likes of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers contributed small bits, while the rest of the players succumbed to the Australian attack cheaply for a single-digit score each.
By stumps of the first day, South Africa’s scoreboard was something like this – 121*, 0, 31, 64, 5, 1, 3, 8, 3, 6* with Morne Morkel left to bat. The initial scores show that despite an early breakthrough from Hazlewood, South Africa were off to a great start. From 6 for 1, they lost their second wicket only at 92 for 2. The partnership that suddenly turned the tables around came between Elgar and de Villiers. As Elgar patiently reached his 11th Test century, the innings sort of looked to slip off from the tourists’ hands. De Villiers en route to his 80-ball half-century played some excellent strokes and looked at a great touch.
He took four balls to open his boundary account. Be it Starc, Hazlewood or Nathan Lyon, the duo of Elgar and de Villiers kept the boundaries coming regularly and that helped them keep the pressure off them and more importantly that pressurised the opposition. Australia, frustrated with the stand, showed desperation to break the partnership. The likes of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon not only could they not take a wicket but they were being expensive too, more often than they should have. Elgar, when he was on 53, was even given a life when Lyon dropped him off Hazlewood’s bowling.
The highest wicket-taker for Australia this series, Starc, was also not spared. The overs 44 and 45 were two of the best to have witnessed by the Newlands crowd on the opening day. The 44th over was bowled by Lyon, who was smashed for a four and a six by Elgar. After he was hit was a four, Lyon tried to give the ball some flight, changed the length but that backfired when Elgar grabbed the flight and heaved the ball over long-on for a beautiful maximum. The 45th over was bowled by Starc, who was punished with two back-to-back boundaries by de Villiers in his first two deliveries of the over.
When Elgar was on 97, he got a slight thick edge but that was beyond the reach of the second slip who watched the ball cross the boundaries. The run flow became easy and the mistakes from the batsmen drastically reduced. The Australians needed something very special from one of their bowlers to break the stand. Steven Smith then called in Pat Cummins for his second spell. When the Elgar and de Villiers stand had piled up 128 runs, Cummins broke it. He dismissed de Villiers, who made a wrong choice of shot giving an easy catch to David Warner at mid-off, and thereby the Newlands Stadium silenced. De Villiers could not finish the job for his side but that certainly was a huge relief for the Australians.
From there on, Elgar sailed alone as the other members came and went back in no time. South Africa in next hour or so lost five wickets for a mere 37 runs. The wickets kept coming, South Africa never managed to recover and the same time the Aussies had a little fun of their own too. The stump mic caught Tim Paine sledging Philander by asking him to switch off his phone the next time hinting to the latter’s phone hacking incident. In the meantime, Elgar continued to justify why he has been one of the crucial members of the South African Test side off late. In the past year or so, no one has faced more deliveries than Elgar in Test cricket. On Thursday, he brought up his first fifty in from 97 balls and his hundred from 178, with a boundary worked through the leg side off Mitchell Starc.
At stumps of Day one, South Africa still had Elgar fighting on 121 but he had tailender Kagiso Rabada with him on the other end. The hero of the day for Australia, Cummins had clinched four wickets already in the 21 overs he had bowled. Hazlewood picked two wickets and Starc and Mitchell Marsh had one each for themselves too.
South Africa took lunch with the loss of just one wicket and lost just one more before tea but the session following that belonged to the touring party by far means. Elgar’s knock could have saved South Africa from an otherwise embarrassment they would have suffered had Elgar too thrown away his wicket like the others. Massive credit to the Australians for striking back after a loss in the second Test.