Australia’s batsmen have shown more application and aggression while their bowlers have bowled with skill and patience. Which is why they are bullying South Africa after two days of the opening Test at Kingsmead, writes GARY LEMKE.
Both teams have quality bowling line-ups and on a pitch where a batsman is never truly ‘in’, the performance of the batsmen was always going to be the difference. It may sound like stating the obvious, but it isn’t. Both top-orders are more fragile than one would expect from such high quality Test teams.
Throughout the match so far there has been a trend of batsmen getting out when they seemed ‘in’. David Warner got to 51 and fell before lunch on day one, Steve Smith reached 56, Shaun Marsh 40, Mitchell Starc 35 and then Aiden Markram similarly, looked ‘set’ on 32 when he perished fending off a short delivery before tea on day two.
In the entire Australia innings there had been three partnerships of 50 or more, another telling sign of wickets falling at regular intervals. Warner and Smith put on 56, Smith and Shaun Marsh put on 56 and then Mitchell Marsh and Tim Paine combined for 60.
In their reply and in being bowled out for 162 to still be 189 runs behind, the highest partnership has been that of AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock, all of 42 runs. And, in being ‘castled’ by Nathan Lyon for 20 off 33 balls, De Kock’s feet were nowhere as he played down the wrong line. De Villiers, unbeaten on 71 at the end of the innings, looked to be playing on a different pitch and against provincial bowling, not one of the best attacks in world cricket.
Poor batting application or fine bowling? A combination of both, and in both departments Australia have been better.
Australia had resumed on day two on 225-6 after 76 overs. They shuffled to 250-6 after a first hour when 25 runs were added for the loss of one wicket in 13 overs. Then, Mitchell Marsh decided that attack was the best form of defence and he accelerated the score, throwing his bat at anything that resembled a loose shot. For his adventure he was rewarded and even when he was caught at mid-on by a Morne Morkel stretching both arms into the sky, he was out on 96 going for his shots.
Australia had put on 100 for their last three wickets to fall, finishing on 351 after being reduced to 251-7. Overnight, Warner had felt that ‘anything 300-plus would be a good total’. And as the second day unfolded he appeared to have nailed it with his assessment. And they’d gone from 251-7 to 351 in just 17.4 overs, at a run rate of just under six to the over.
Frustratingly for South Africa, their trend of struggling to wrap up the tail continued. They had Australia 251-7 and let them get to 351. India in their recent Test series, had gone from 82-7 to 135 all out, 209-6 to 307 all out and 87-7 to 151 all out.
South Africa’s last three wickets fell for four runs, going from 158-7 to 162 all out. One of the differences between the two sides is laid bare right there.
Allowing Australia to get to 351 was always going to put pressure on a South African top-order that itself wasn’t convincing in the Test series win over India. And by the time Faf du Plessis strode to the crease to join De Villiers after the tea interval with the score on 55-3 the bookies had revised their match odds.
In doing so they shortened the market on Australia winning the Test to 6-10, with the draw at 7-2 and a victory for South Africa the third choice in the betting, at 15-4.
By the end of the second day the bookies had again adjusted their odds. This time Australia had been shortened to 1-8 to win, with the draw at 12-1 and a South African win at 12-1. Those odds tell the story of a poor day at the office for an outplayed South Africa.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images