Australia in South Africa 2014: 1st Test ponderings

Let’s get this out of the way at the outset: this win by the Australian cricket team was their best performance in at least the last 24 months.  Yes, Australia defeated England but this was a win against the best team in the world.  A team that had not been bested in 19 test matches was just destroyed by the Australian team.

Mitchell Johnson bowled better than at any time during the Ashes series and that is saying much.  He bowled with pace and hostility but also, when the pitch changed, he threw in some excellent variations.  The ball of the game that showed Australia’s out and out domination of this game was in the last innings: Hashim Amla, one of the best batters of the last 5 years, was struck by a Johnson thunderbolt on the grill of the helmet.  This was a ball that Amla did not appear to see it and was rocked on his heals which is exactly what the Australians did to South Africans all game.

Another example of Australia’s dominance of this game and, indeed, an indication of just how well Australia played is that this test is the first in this current winning streak in wish Brad Haddin was NOT needed to play a significant role with the willow.

For the South Africans, Graeme Smith will be rueing his decision at the toss which will go down in history as a akin to Nasser Hussian’s toss imbroglio at Brisbane in 2002.  He will also be rueing lapses in the field that are so unlike the South African team that one suspects that they have to be an aberration at best. There is much to work on and much improvement in this camp: they must come up with a plan for dealing with Mitchell Johnson and they must find a way to get Dale Steyn fit for the first morning of the next test match.  They also must seek to reverse the trend of Australia coming back from adverse circumstances which has been the cornerstone of their wins in the last 6 test matches.

This is a golden 6 months for Australian cricket: every strategy that Michael Clarke seems to put in place, at least since the first day at the Gabba in November, has come off.  The batters that are being plucked from Sheffield Shield cricket without semblance of form are performing at the top flight. I can not remember the last time an Australian team played the same four bowlers for 6 test matches in a row.

There is a short turnaround between this test match and the next: the second test commences on 20 February.  As I wrote yesterday, Australia will select the same  team for the second test regardless of the fitness of Shane Watson.  South Africa have to look at their spin bowler selection and also have to look at what they do at the top of the order.  I expect both Petersons to be missing from the next test perhaps with Amla to open.

This result, more than any of the last six wins, has the feel about it that Australia has defeated a team of, at least, equals rather than a team in decline.  If the same result arises in the test match though then questions will be asked about whether this is a South African team in decline too.  It certainly will be interesting to see how the second test evolves right from the toss of the coin.

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