South Africa vs. Australia, third Test: Five talking points, day three

By Antoinette Muller 3 March 2014

South Africa’s misery in the third Test against Australia continued at Newlands on Tuesday with the hosts being bowled out for just 287. The visitors didn’t enforce the follow-on, but have a hefty lead of 234 runs in hand and more than enough time to try to engineer a famous victory. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks five talking points form the third day’s play in Cape Town.

South Africa were skittled out for 287 on day three at Newlands as the Australian bowlers ransacked the batting line-up with Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson doing the damage, taking three and four wickets respectively.

It was only Alviro Petersen with 53 off 62 and Faf du Plessis with 67 off 135 who managed any scores of significance. Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn all combined in various vigils, but the Aussie attack was simply too good, even on a flat track.

Consistent battering of a testing line and length ensured the Australian bowling line-up knocked South Africa over in just a day. Australia didn’t enforce the follow-on and made it to 27-0 at stumps with David Warner smashing his way to 25 off 17 and Chris Rogers going steady at 1 off 14, extending the lead to 234.

Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott took the new ball for South Africa with Dale Steyn still nursing a hamstring injury and Vernon Philander probably a bit low on confidence after his first innings performance.

Here are five talking points from day three.

Alviro Petersen always scores when the axe is about to fall

Whenever Alviro Petersen is under the cosh, he seems to find runs somewhere. He did so again on day three at Newlands, scoring 53 off 62 before getting himself out unnecessarily. After being roughed up by Mitchell Johnson, the opener gloved through to Brad Haddin. Petersen’s approach until that point was tentative, while still being assertive. He wasn’t afraid to play his shots and he wasn’t afraid to get hit. It was a different Petersen to the one that showed up for the first Test and the was the same Petersen who has rescued his own career over and over again. After Dean Elgar’s performance in the Port Elizabeth Test, Petersen was not only in danger of being demoted down the order, but also potentially losing his place in the team if he kept on under-performing. His effort will ensure that he is safe for at least another series, despite not having score a hundred for over a year.

Is this the worst series of Smith’s career?

Graeme Smith averages 8.40 with the bat this series, and that’s not quite a record for a top order batsman, but it’s pretty poor by Smith’s standards. That average is the worst for a South African top three batsman in a series of three or more Tests since 1929, though. It’s also only the second time ever in a series of three or more Tests that Smith has gone without scoring a 50. The other time was also against Australia, back in 2005-06, when South Africa toured there and he failed to get past 39. It has happened a few times on two-Test tours, but it’s not since South Africa toured India in 2010 that he has had such a poor series. In two Tests to India, he managed just 30 runs in total at an average of 10.00.

However, in context, this is arguably the worst series of Smith’s career. With so many things going wrong for South Africa – from retirements to injuries – they really needed their skipper to lead by example and guide the rest of the team into a position of safety. Prior to the start of the Test the skipper said that he was feeling comfortable and relaxed and thought he was seeing the ball well, but he simply hasn’t been able to get the ball away. Just like Michael Clarke believed that he was “due” a big score and responded with an unbeaten 161, Smith might believe he is due one too. Considering Smith’s penchant for fourth innings knocks, there’s never been a more opportune time. Considering his penchant for performing in the fourth innings and his retirement announcement, he’s certainly “due”.

The joy of Ryan Harris

Ryan Harris has postponed knee surgery twice in order to make the trip to South Africa. By some miracle he made it through five Ashes Tests unscathed and has looked as good as ever on tour to South Africa. His knee is so bad that he can actually feel little bits of bone floating about and teammate Mitchell Johnson calls him a “freak” for being able to carry on despite all his niggles. At 34 years old, many might have thought that Harris is over the hill by now, but he keeps on delivering. To dismiss Amla, Harris bowled a reverse-swinging ball which rattled the stumps. He’s unlikely to play much further Test cricket, with an overdue surgery and age bogging him down, but the late twilight of Harris’ career has been enjoyable and even if he might never play more than 30 Tests for Australia, he will still have one of the most memorable careers of the modern era.

Nathan Lyon is the unlikely difference

At the start of the series all eyes were on the leaders of the bowling attacks. Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris were the focal points. Yet it’s Nathan Lyon who has been the unlikely difference in the two attacks. South Africa does not have a frontline spinner and while Robin Peterson has tried his best, he has not exactly thrived. Since being spanked for 136 runs in the first Test, Peterson has been demoted and South Africa have opted for part-timers in his place. JP Duminy and Dean Elgar haven’t been the worst in their part-time roles, with Duminy being particularly impressive in this Test. Australia, though, have the stability of Lyon and the knowledge that he will be able to race through overs without going for too many runs.

The art of reverse swing

Reverse swing is becoming one of the other major talking points of the tour. South Africa got the ball to reverse in Port Elizabeth while Australia got the ball reversing from around the 27th over. Faf du Plessis was coy about why it was all happening but suggested perhaps the rain the night before and a more scuffed up pitch had something to do with it. When the ball is reversing it can scramble players’ minds almost as much as a bouncers flung at their heads at 150km/h and Du Plessis called it “one of the most difficult things to bat against”. Can South Africa make the ball do it again? Can South Africa survive against the reverse swinging ball? Stay tuned. DM

Scorecard summary:

Australia 1st innings: 494-7 declared (David Warner 135, Michael Clarke 161; JP Duminy 4-73)

South Africa 1st innings: 287 all out (Alviro Petersen 53, Faf du Plessis 67; Mitchell Johnson 4-42, Ryan Harris 3-63)

Australia 2nd innings: 27-0

Photo: Australia’s Ryan Harris celebrates taking the wicket of South Africa’s JP Duminy during the third day of the third test cricket match at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, March 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Shaun Roy)


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