Sport

South Africa vs. Australia, 1st Test, Day Two: Five talking points

By Antoinette Muller 14 February 2014

South Africa have their backs against the wall after day two of the first Test against Australia at Centurion. Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith did the job with the batting, while Mitchell Johnson orchestrated the Australian pace attack. There’s a long way to go, but Australia have their foot on the Proteas’ necks. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks five talking points for day two at Centurion.

Thanks the ferocious pace of Mitchell Johnson, who not only managed to get close to 150km/h but also got some serious bounce, Australia took charge of the first Test against South Africa on day two at Centurion.

After being dismissed for 397, thanks to some stellar knocks from Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith, Australia ripped the heart out of South Africa’s batting line-up. The Proteas were reduced to 140-6 by stumps on day two, with AB de Villiers soldiering on unbeaten on 52. Nobody else passed 25 and just the tail-enders remained to try to avoid the follow on. Johnson finished the day with four for 51 with short bursts doing the trick, but he’s almost certainly not done yet. South Africa trail by 257 runs and have to once again play catch-up cricket. Here are five talking points from day two.

The evolution of Steve Smith

A year ago, there was very little orthodox about Steve Smith. He looked like an awkward teenager trying to adapt to Test cricket. Now, he’s arguably the most improved player in world cricket. He plays proper cricket shots, looks classy, leaves the ball well, is confident – and it was all just a few small tweaks to his technique that made the change. He scored a hundred against arguably the best pace attack in the world, something which will cement his reputation as a Test match player for a while to come yet. If there were doubts about his abilities because his runs came “only” against England, those should be put to rest for the time being.

Making batsmen play

There was one thing Australia did extremely well with the new ball. They made South Africa play all the time. It’s something the hosts didn’t do so well or so consistently. Once they had their foot on Australia’s neck, their lengths just changed a bit and both Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh were given far too many balls they could simply leave. Marsh, early on in his innings, was looking shaky but wasn’t probed enough, and eventually went on to get a massive score. Australia’s bowlers were fierce and fired up and asked questions of every single South African batsman. Yes, reducing the runs is one way to build the pressure, but when a team is under the cosh, asking questions is the best way to do so. South Africa left 16% compared to Australia leaving 33% yesterday – and  that’s a pretty long leash when there’s so much time left in the game.

Michael Clarke 1-1 Graeme Smith

When Michael Clarke walked out to bat yesterday, Smith had already set the field for him. Smith walked up from the slip cordon to where Clarke was coming to the crease to share a few thoughts with his opposite number. Some short pitched bowling followed and, soon enough, Clarke was on his merry way. On Thursday, Clarke did exactly the same thing with Smith. The field had been set, but Clarke was standing forward from the slip cordon to have a few words with the skipper. Smith even slowed down with his walk to the crease to see what exactly the Australian skipper’s plan was. Short pitched bowling and a few words and Smith, just like Clarke, was sent packing early on. It was a nasty delivery from Johnson, but both captains clearly had plans for each other.

Mitchell Johnson and the pace revolution

When Johnson is on song, he is extraordinary to watch. At full tilt on Thursday, bowling at close to 150km/h, Johnson was a sight to behold, and a brutal assault on South Africa’s senses. A barrage of short-pitched bowling aimed at the noggins of the South Africans, and at their ribs, roughed them up. The South African top order folded like a deck of cards. Graeme Smith got a brutish ball, Faf du Plessis was roughed up, but Alviro Petersen played a rubbish shot to get out – in a rubbish way. Johnson certainly was intimidating, but both AB de Villiers and JP Duminy showed what a little bit of positivity can do. Duck the bouncers, put some of the short stuff away and defend the rest. At the post-play press conference, Johnson said he was getting some extra bounce out of the pitch and the delivery, which sent Faf du Plessis packing and surprised even him. For lovers of fast bowling, it was a sight to behold. Something so rarely seen these days can only be marvelled at.

AB de Villiers the lone ranger

While his teammates were folding around him, looking clueless and uncomfortable, De Villiers stood firm and steadily notched up his 50. De Villiers has now gone past 50 in an innings for the 11th Test in a row and he equals a record held by Sir Viv Richards, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. He’s the only wicket-keeper batsman to achieve that feat, though. De Villiers’ approach was far more positive than that of his teammates, but he is also a superbly talented player. It’s been said before, but his ability to adjust to any game situation and to whoever he is facing is phenomenal. He left the ball really well and was content with defending and not desperate to get runs, but also not scared to take Johnson on. De Villiers scored 28 runs of his 52 off Johnson and those came off just 35 balls. There might not be a special method to play Johnson, but De Villiers certainly showed that it is possible.

Scorecard summary

South Africa 140 for 6 (de Villiers 53*, Johnson 4-52) trail Australia 397 (Marsh 148, Smith 100, Steyn 4-78) by 257 runs DM

Photo: Australia’s Mitchell Johnson (2nd L) celebrates with teammates after the dismissal of South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith during the second day of their cricket test match in Centurion February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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