Michael Clarke became the first-ever player to score four double hundreds in a year as the Proteas wilted on the first day at Adelaide. They lost yet another player through injury, and the tour of the walking wounded continued. By ANT SIMS.
Losing the toss at Adelaide is quite possibly the worst thing that could happen to any side. Except, um, losing the toss and two of your key players too. But that’s exactly what befell South Africa on day one of the second Test against Australia.
Michael Clarke won the toss and decided to bat, but South Africa was dealt a late blow when Vernon Philander was ruled out of the match at the 11th hour owing to back spasms. This meant that Rory Kleinveldt, who made a forgettable debut in Brisbane, was handed a second chance. Also in the team was Faf du Plessis, making his debut to replace the injured JP Duminy; and Imran Tahir also returned after missing out on action in the first Test.
David Warner looked scratchy against the new ball early on, but it was a kind of scratchy South Africa would come to rue later on, as the opener blasted 119 off just 112 balls – in a day which would see a flurry of runs bleed to all corners of the park.
Before that, there were some other worries for South Africa. Jacques Kallis, who had just picked up the wickets of Ed Cowan and Ricky Ponting, pulled out of his run-up in his fourth over and trundled off the field. He has a grade one hamstring strain and will not be able to bowl for the remainder of the Test, but might bat, depending on how well he responds to treatment. It’s a catastrophe for South Africa: the team now has to rely on Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and rookie Kleinveldt to take 20 wickets where Australia hammered 482-5 on the first rate, scoring over five runs per over.
Clarke stole the show yet again, scoring his fourth double hundreds of the calendar year – the first ever player to do so. Michael Hussey notched up his second hundred of the tour, and the Proteas bowlers toiled for scant reward. The bowling wasn’t quite up to scratch, and Steyn looked off the pace for most of his spell, but Morkel and Kleinveldt both put in some good efforts, with a number of edges flying past the slips. There were also spells of awful bowling – like a Morkel over from which Clarke took five fours to head for 150. Tahir was the worst of the lot, and his inconsistency and inability to hold up one end continued to hamper the momentum throughout the Test. With South Africa desperate to stop the flow of runs, he had no answers.
Big scores first up at the Adelaide Oval are nothing new, but South Africa will have to dig in really deep to recover from Australia’s onslaught. One of the biggest question marks over their heads is the lack of preparation ahead of the second Test. With a long break between the first and the second Test, some players opted for some time off, while coach Gary Kirsten flew back to South Africa for a quick burst. He was quick to defend the team’s lack of practice.
“First of all, we had four great days of prep leading into this game, but it's always a thing that will come up. Often, when we're home for a Test series, we send players home and they come back two days ahead to prepare,” said Kirsten.
"There's no exact science to it. You can always find a way to criticise in some department. Every team goes through injuries at some point in time. I don't think we're unique [in] that. The fact that it happened on one day – I certainly don't have the answers to that. It was unfortunate."
For a team ranked number one in the world, South Africa’s bowling attack certainly hasn’t looked it. The no ball issue carried through to this Test, with Kleinveldt and Tahir each overstepping the mark five times. It’s a curious quandary, and it does leave some question marks over bowling coach Allan Donald’s head, but Kirsten said that the conditions were up against the spinner and admitted that his charges simply weren’t good enough first up.
"I think it was a difficult first-innings wicket for a spinner to bowl on, especially when you've got someone like Michael Clarke who is going to pounce," Kirsten said, referring to the Australian captain's 224 not out, following his unbeaten 259 in Brisbane.
"I don't think we bowled well enough throughout the day to really put enough pressure on the batsmen at any time.”
Kirsten insisted that the team always gave their best, but admitted that there might be some flaws in their cerebral approach.
"I don't think I could ever fault the attitude of my players, the Proteas. I would never fault the intensity that they do things. I know they're giving everything they've got.
“Maybe where we're at fault is our thinking. We try and deal with that as much as we can,” the coach concluded.
If day one is anything to go by, day two should be another entertaining day, with plenty of runs on offer. This, of course, if the team batting second can dig in and take advantage of the conditions. DM
Australia's Michael Clarke completes a run against South Africa during the first test cricket match at the Gabba in Brisbane November 13, 2012. REUTERS/Aman Sharma