A scintillating day of Test cricket saw the Proteas build an 86-run lead after 15 wickets fell on day one in Hobart.
Rain was expected to dominate the opening day, but that honour went to the Proteas instead, as Vernon Philander breezed through the Australian top order in incredible fashion.
If you woke up at a reasonable hour, as most South Africans would have done, you could be forgiven for switching on the TV in the second or third session to think that the Proteas were batting first. But you would have missed an extraordinary first session.
The tourists fully vindicated their decision to bowl first after they won the toss. On a lush, green surface, the ball swung and nipped off the surface for both Philander and Kyle Abbott, making it a nightmare for the Aussie top order.
There was a very brief rain delay in the morning, but it seemed nothing was going to stop Philander from wrecking havoc, taking 5-21 to skittle Australia for 85. He was even forced off the field at one point, following a collision with Steve Smith when he had taken three wickets. But he would only get better and better.
Australia’s 85 was their lowest at home since their 76 at Perth against West Indies in 1984, and it was their third-lowest total of all time against the South Africans.
Philander’s 5-21 was his first five-wicket haul for almost four years, when he took 5-59 against Pakistan in Cape Town. It was his first five-wicket haul in Australia, and first away from home since his 5-30 against England at Lord’s in August 2012.
Philander got the ball rolling just four balls in as David Warner flashed at a wide one to be caught behind for one, and that proved the catalyst, as Abbott, preferred over Morne Morkel to take Dale Steyn’s place in the team, also struck in his first over.
Aussie skipper Steve Smith (48 not out) appeared to be the only one up for the fight as ran out of partners as the innings wore on. It took some excellent catches to clean up the tail, as JP Duminy took an amazing one-handed grab to see off Mitchell Starc (4), before a great take from Quinton de Kock to remove Nathan Lyon (2) completed the damage.
Abbott proved a worthy foil to Philander’s massacre with figures of 3-41. Kagiso Rabada was hardly needed, taking one wicket from his six overs.
The response from openers Stephen Cook and Dean Elgar was impressive at first, as they saw off the last 18 overs of the second session to be comfortable on 43-0. Mitchell Starc came in firing after the break however and shook the top order with three strikes in two overs, accounting for Elgar (17), Cook (23) and JP Duminy (1).
The pitch didn’t seem to offer as much for the Australian bowlers as it appeared to dry up quite quickly, but Starc’s spell brought the hosts back into the game and Josh Hazlewood followed suit with two wickets of his own. Faf du Plessis was trapped lbw for seven, before Hashim Amla, who brought up 7 500 runs in his 47, played a loose shot to edge behind.
Temba Bavuma was up for the challenge once again, playing within himself in assured fashion for his 38 not out, with De Kock playing his naturally aggressive game (28) to leave their side extremely well-placed on 171-5.
This was the first time since December 2004 that the Proteas fielded a side without Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers, but you could be forgiven for overlooking that fact in what was a clinical day-one display from Faf du Plessis’ charges.
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