Sport

WILTING DOWN UNDER

Australia take charge on gloomy day for Proteas 

Australia take charge on gloomy day for Proteas 
Usman Khawaja of Australia celebrates after scoring a half century during day one of the Third Test match in the series between Australia and South Africa at Sydney Cricket Ground on 4 January, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Australia sit comfortably on 147 for the loss of two wickets in a day marred by controversy — from Covid scares to dropped catches.

Only 47 overs were bowled on day one of the third and final Test match between Australia and South Africa in Sydney, with Australia on 147 for two overnight. 

Marnus Labuschagne and opener Usman Khawaja contributed 126 of those runs. Khawaja ended the day on 54 not out while Labuschagne was dismissed with the final delivery of the day, a snorter of a delivery by Anrich Nortje, for 79.

Marnus Labuschagne of Australia looks dejected after being dismissed by Anrich Nortje of South Africa during day one of the Third Test match in the series between Australia and South Africa at Sydney Cricket Ground on 4 January, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Incessant cloud cover contributed to both bad light and sporadic rain, ensuring the first day of the traditional Pink Test – in support of Breast Cancer Awareness initiated by former Aussie fast bowler Glenn McGrath – only saw half the allotted overs bowled. 

Australia won the toss and elected to bat first. The overhead conditions usually favour fast bowling but the slow, low nature of the Sydney pitch made batting comfortable.

“It looks like a very dry wicket. As we’re landing and following through [while bowling] there’s quite a few marks there and that’s already on day one,” said Nortje after the first day’s play.

Both sides responded to the conditions of the wicket by bringing in an extra spin bowler to their bowling attack. Simon Harmer for South Africa, replaced Lungi Ngidi and Ashton Agar for Australia, replaced the injured Mitchell Starc.

The other injury casualty of the Boxing Day Test match, Cameron Green was replaced by Matthew Renshaw in Australia’s playing 11.

However, before Aussie captain Pat Cummins flipped the coin at the toss, Renshaw returned a positive Covid test. 

Australia were allowed to replace Renshaw but decided against it, instead opting to isolate the player from the rest of the squad, as he even stood separate from the rest of the side during the singing of the national anthems. 

The official take was that he was allowed to play as he did not display any obvious coronavirus symptoms. 

Australia listed Peter Handscomb (not originally in the squad) as an emergency player — raising questions about when their team management knew of Renshaw’s health concerns.


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Blow-by-blow

Nortje was the pick of the South African bowlers, bowling with relentless energy on a wicket that provided him with little assistance. In spite of this Nortje ended the day with two wickets for 26 runs in his 11 overs.

Opener David Warner, coming off a double hundred in the previous match, attempted an audacious cut-shot, in the fourth over, at a delivery that was too tight to his body as he top-edged a Nortje rocket to Marco Jansen at first slip for an 11-ball 10 runs.

South Africa would have felt comfortable at that point, breaking the opening stand with only 12 runs on the board.

However, Khawaja and Labuschagne crept into the South African bowling, hitting boundaries at will after their timid start.

Anrich Nortje of South Africa

Anrich Nortje (centre-right) of South Africa celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Marnus Labuschagne of Australia during Day 1 of the Third Test between Australia and South Africa at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia, 4 January 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/David Neilson)

Keshav Maharaj and Harmer were brought into the attack in tandem to stem the run flow and snag a wicket or two. But after an outside edge off Khawaja’s bat beat the slip fielder off the bowling of Harmer, the pair began to get stuck into the spinners too. 

“At a stage for us — with the weather as well — it didn’t play into our hands with the spin but it will play a massive role later on in the game and hopefully we can be one up on that,” said Nortje about the Aussie batters scoring at more than three and a half to over against South Africa’s spin.

Labuschagne in particular seemed to enjoy the orthodox spin of Maharaj, sweeping him for four boundaries. However, with the pitch already producing indentations, the spin bowling pair are expected to play a big role later in the match.

“The spinners are going to play a massive role in this game,” said Nortje.

“I do think it’s going to be tough later on. I’m not sure how it’s going to affect the team batting last but it’s definitely going to play a role.”

Not out?

Skipper Dean Elgar reverted back to his quick bowlers and the plan worked immediately. Or so that’s what the players and spectators watching thought. But the man who matters, third umpire Richard Kettleborough thought differently. 

With the score on 130 in the 40th over, Jansen set Labuschagne up with a bouncer before bringing him forward half-heartedly with a full ball outside off stump. 

The Aussie batter only managed to outside edge the follow-up delivery as it flew to Harmer at slip. 

Harmer looked to have taken an excellent catch low to the ground but Labuschagne was unmoved. The umpires convened and went to  Kettleborough with a ‘soft signal’ of out.

With the soft signal of out, Kettleborough would need conclusive evidence to overturn the decision. The Englishman had decided that he had seen enough evidence of the ball touching the ground — from a side-on replay — and overturned the on-field decision to not out. 

“All of us thought it was out. Simon was convinced it went straight in. When you look at the front on angle, to us it looks like his fingers are underneath the ball,” said Nortje.

Nevertheless, Nortje grabbed Labuschagne’s wicket with the batter only able to add nine runs to his score after the reprieve.

Steve Smith walked to the crease and no sooner was back to the pavilion as the umpires decided the lighting was too dark to continue play. 

Scattered showers are expected for the next three days in Sydney. South Africa will need a sharp change of fortune to get a positive result from the final Test match. DM

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