Australians in South Africa 2014: finally some 3rd test reflections

As I have written elsewhere I was a bit crook on Wednesday night and Thursday and thus not in a position write about Australia’s epic victory in the 3rd test at Newlands.

Having had some time to reflect and watch a replay of Day 5 now here are some thoughts on the 3rd test:

Ryan Harris: courage personified

It is obvious to everyone that Ryan Harris’ knee is buggered. It was not obvious to anyone until after the end of the game that he was not supposed to bowl in the second innings of this game. To come back with 5 overs to go when even he thought he was spent was nothing short of miraculous.

David Warner: match winner from the naughty corner

Readers of this blog will know my views on Warner and his behaviour. Take it as read that nothing that occurred on day 5 assuaged me from that view. If he were to be judged on his batting alone though he was head and shoulders about the rest in this series and was a worthy Man of Match and Man of the Series.

Only South Africa could have held on like they did

Anyone wanting an answer to the why South Africa are the number test nation in the world need to look at their second innings in this test match. There is not other team in the game, Australia included, though could have even gotten close to batting out the last day in the manner they did.

Boring? Pig’s Arse!

I have had a few alleged “fans” of cricket say to me that day 5 of this test was boring and not helpful to the marketing of cricket. This sentiment sends me off the deep end because the battle on day 5 is precisely what test cricket ought be about. It was enthralling and thrilling cricket.

Questioning the umpires decision and sledging: a victory tarnished

This has already been written about by some and I wholeheartedly agree: it is hard to celebrate a victory when, as a fan, you are embarrassed by the way your winning team has conducted itself on the field. Darren Lehmann has bought many positives to this team but it behaviour, including the way some players speak to the umpires is nothing short of appalling and is already a massive negative of Lehmann’s reign. Am I happy we won? Yes but I, as a fan, am ashamed as well.

There could not have been a better ending, from an Australian perspective to the 2013/14 summer of test cricket. Test cricket fans now have a long wait till October when a series against Pakistan is scheduled.

Australians in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test, Day 4 … Warner Wondrous and the bowler’s sublime

Australia is poised for victory at Newlands after a dominant day 4 in the third test. Forget the runs needed: On day 5 Australia need 6 wickets and and South Africa need to bat for 98 overs.

David Warner dominated with the bat on day 4 in one of his best hundreds in test cricket. His batting has simply been sublime in this series and in this innings he mixed brute strength with patience when the bowlers tested him with wide balls. He has set the game up for the Australians too because of haste with which he scores runs.

After Warner’s dominance, the bowlers came out and destroyed the South Africans in the first six overs before tea. Johnson and Harris were just outstanding mixing aggression with sublime stump to stump bowling. Just when the South Africans might have thought they had gotten to the end of the day in not a bad position Pattinson extracted Amla with a hooping inswinger.

Australia’s day again means that South Africa have not won a day and may not have won a session in this test match so far. They will need to win all three sessions on day 5 and the key man for them will again be A B de Villiers. His 16 so far has spanned 100 balls and he has the capacity to play long. The key man for Australia will be the captain: how he uses his bowlers will be vital on day 5.

Two final comments:

1. Graeme Smith’s last innings was a sad moment but also showed why his retirement was absolutely the right decision. Ricky Ponting spoke on “Australian Story” of the moment the “light went out” when it came to international cricket for him and it looks like the same has happened to Smith.

2. I commented on twitter about some the chat emanating from David Warner toward the umpires whilst batting and in the field. I have said it before and I will say it again: if Warner learned to shut his mouth he will go much further in the game. This conduct took the lustre off his hundred for me.

Tonight spells the last late night for Australian test match fans for a while and could also end with Australia sitting at number 2 in the world and within striking distance of number 1.

Australians in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test Day 3 … Reverse swing swings Australia’s way

Australia declared over night on 494 and sent the South African’s innings for what was the most important innings of this series.  By the end of day 3 Australia had again won the day and now are poised to win the series.

After the second test there was much talk about reverse swing and Australia’s lack of proficiency in that dark art.  When the ball started to “reverse” in the 27th over in the hand of Ryan Harris those in commentary first put the ball movement down to it hitting the seam before realizing that the Australian bowlers were in fact swinging the ball.  Such was the lack of expectation on the Australian bowlers.

Speaking of Ryan Harris, with a bad knee hanging on by a thread and awaiting major surgery, he charged in and bowled back to back spells that were the best spells by any bowler in the series so far.  His ball to extract Amla through the gate reminded me of his removal of Cooke in Perth.  Subtle movement at pace piercing the defence of one of the best batters in the world: that is what Ryan Harris does.

At the other end, Mitchell Johnson did what he had done since November.  He intimidated and he procured false strokes and acted as the perfect counter balance to Ryan Harris’ production at the other end.  I was one of the few people who questioned Johnson’s form line coming out of the Ashes, mostly because I considered his output in that series to more to do with England’s poor form than anything else. I have been proven overtly incorrect.

This has been a complete and absolute dismantling of the best team in the world by Australia’s newly rising line up.  It is South Africa’s turn now to counter punch.  If they do not then the game could well be over on day 4.

I wrote earlier about Graeme Smith’s retirement (  Nothing more needs to be said about that other than the fact that if South Africa ever needed something to play for on these final two days of the series they have it now.

A final comment: Faf du Plessis was quoted thusly in his press conference overnight on the topic of reverse swing:

“I must be honest, I was really surprised to see the ball reverse from their side,” du Plessis said.

“I think it was 27 overs when the ball started reversing, especially after rain and a wet outfield (from the day before). I was really surprised by that, so … let’s leave it at that.”

This sentiment was always going to arise after Warner’s comments in the lead up to the test match.  Whilst, du Plessis did not make a direct allegation against a particular player like Warner, in the interests of consistency I expect the ICC to have a look at the comments albeit I expect him to be exonerated.

Day 4 will again commence early to make up the time lost on Day 2.  The weather, according to the South African weather service, will be clear all day so we should have a full day of cricket to saviour.

Australians in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test Day 2 … Rain, rain go away

The second day of the third test match was drowned out from the middle of the second session with Australia in a dominant position at 7/494.

Before the rain came it was the Michael Clarke show as the captain of Australia went on to his 27th test match century.  Clarke has commented over night that this may well be the best hundred of his career but only if Australia win.

The fact is though: if this is not Michael Clarke’s best hundred then it is certainly his most courageous.  After surviving the day 1 onslaught from the South African bowlers and the agony of 24 balls on 99, getting to three figures must have been massively satisfying for him.  Now 161 not out overnight, he has the chance of pressing on to 200 at the start of day 3.

In the shadows of Michael Clarke’s epic innings was the batting of Steve Smith.  His 84 here was replete with some spectacular shots, none more so than depositing Morne Morkel back over his head for 6.  From a career in test cricket that seemed resigned to be a footnote in the anals of cricket history, Smith has become in less than 12 months a key member of this Australian team.

Looking forward to day 3, I would be astonised if Michael Clarke did not declare overnight.  He is nothing if not an aggressive captain and if Australia is to have any chance of getting 20 wickets one has to think Australia has to have South Africa 7 or 8 wickets down by stumps today.

What will not help Australia’s drive for victory is the pitch.  I have had many readers try to convince me that the pitch will break up and suit Australia’s spinner.  If that was correct before the rain, it stirkes me that the rain will have freshened up the pitch which will only make it less likely to break up over the remainder of the test match.

The weather may also have a part to play in the course of play on day 3.  The South African Weather Service predicts a mostly fine day for day 3 with a 30% chance of rain.  If that rain does arrive, every minute lost will reduce the probability of an Australian victory.

I will repeat what I said at lunch on Day 1 on twitter: this game will be a draw.  A freshened pitch with some rain around does not bode well for a result.  If there is to be a winner there is only one team it could be: Australia.

Play will be extended by an hour each day to make up for day 2’s lost time so the first ball will bowled at 5:30pm Brisbane time.

Australia in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test Day 1 … Warner’s Wonder and the Captain’s Courage

Everything went Australia’s way on the first day of the third test at Newlands overnight: right from the minute Australia won the toss and batted they had the advantage in the game.

David Warner, much maligned by many during the week including me, finally did what many want from him: he let his bat do the talking. This was another innings of quality from Warner that mixed outright aggression at the start with graft to get to his hundred when the South Africans lifted their performance. Now if only he could stop doing all the things that fail to endear him to fans of the game he could be a world beater!

The loss of Dale Steyn with a hamstring strain is a massive one for the South Africans who, as happened in Port Elizabeth, find themselves a bowler down. Morne Morkel was excellent for the Proteas on what was a tough day at the office otherwise for them.

The highlight for me, despite the Warner hundred, was the innings of Michael Clarke: it has been a long time since a fast bowler has attacked a batsman as overtly as Morne Morkel attacked Clarke early in his innings and whilst he looked equal parts ungainly and lacking in technique he deflected the blows Morkel struck, got through the tough period and the thrived. Out of form going into this fixture it was almost as though the speed of Morkel energised Clarke and it now looks like there is little to stop another hundred for him on Day 2.

A final note: I see no other result in this game other than a draw. The pitch is flat. Scratch that: the pitch is very flat. It does no favours to cricket and its fans when wickets like this are trotted out in such important fixtures.

Play commences at around 6:30pm tonight Brisbane time.

Australia in South Africa 2014: Teams for the 3rd Test

The toss has been won by Australia and it is batting at Newlands. Both teams have made two changes.

Warner, C Rogers, A Doolan, M Clarke, S Smith, S Watson, B Haddin, M Johnson, J Pattinson, R Harris, N Lyon

South Africa:
G Smith, A Petersen, D Elgar, H Amla, AB de Villiers, F du Plessis, JP Duminy, V Philander, K Abbott, D Steyn, M Morkel

Pattinson in for Siddle the big surprise in all of this. I do not think Siddle is in form, now has been a for a while, but selecting a player who has not bowled a red ball in anger since August 2013 must be a risk.