THE Proteas’ Castle Lager squad made a stirring fightback from the brink of impending disaster to finish the second day of the second Sunfoil Test against Australia at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium on Friday almost on level terms.
Few would have betted on that happening at the lunch interval by which time the Australian opening pair of Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes had laid the South African attack waste and put a three-figure partnership on the board in what seemed like no time at all.
The first wicket partnership for the Wanderers of 176, set by Jackie McGlew and Trevor Goddard in 1957, seemed certain to fall until Vernon Philander dismissed Hughes for 88 (111 balls, 14 fours) two runs short of that landmark.
Watson also fell for 88 (140 balls, 14 fours and 2 sixes) as Australia lost four wickets for little more than 50 runs during the afternoon session.
It took some typically lusty hitting from Mitchell Johnson to earn Australia a lead of 30 runs which left the Proteas to face four balls before bad light once again shortened the day.
As always Dale Steyn had the standout figures of 4/64 and would have had five but for a dropped catch that extended No. 11 batsman Nathan Lyon’s innings by a few balls.
He now has 248 Test match wickets and seems certain to draw level with all-time great Dennis Lillee on 250 dismissals in the shortest number of matches when he gets another chance in the second innings.
What will have been particularly pleasing to the national selectors is the continuing form of Philander who was easily the best South African bowler during the Hughes-Watson onslaught and was the most economical member of the attack, as well as the first meaningful bowling spell from the other new cap from this series, Imran Tahir.
He will be expected to fulfil his main wicket-taking role in the second innings but there is no doubt that a spinner of his type is the best way to clean up the tail. This he did to near perfection, finishing with 3/55 in 13.4 overs.
As was witnessed at the 2011 ICC World Cup he brings a new vibrancy to the Proteas and his celebrations every time he takes a wicket will endear him to South African fans.
Australia will be just as disappointed as the Proteas were on the first day not to consolidate a strong batting position. The four middle-order batsmen, including the experienced trio of Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey, contributed just 43 runs between them off 120 balls.
Both teams will feel that the match is there’s for the taking and the Proteas will need to bat big in their second innings and learn the lessons from the first.
The weekend is certainly set fair for a bumper two days of Test cricket in front of what should be a big crowd.-Cricket.co.za