All hands on deck for Proteas

2009-03-09 00:00

IT will literally be all hands on deck for South Africa today. That is, all hands except those of the unfortunate Graeme Smith, whose mitts seem cursed to crumble at the mere sight of a certain Mitchell Johnson.

For the rest of the Proteas, however, today presents an opportunity to demonstrate the dogged determination that littered last year’s outstanding results.

Chasing an impossible 546 to win, the Proteas enjoyed their best day of the match yesterday as they ended play at a handy 244 for two wickets.

Australia had resumed on 292 for three, and Philip Hughes wasted no time in playing out a belated IPL contract audition with a mixture of shots that would not seem amiss in the crop fields of Eston.

Hughes carved his way to 160, including a clean blow that sailed over Dale Steyn’s head for six, before he fell to a suitably unimpressed Makhaya Ntini.

Marcus North saw his average drop dismally as he perished for nought, brilliantly snapped up by AB de Villiers at third slip.

With that, Ricky Ponting called time on the Aussie second innings on 331 for five, a mammoth 545 runs ahead.

Perhaps still nursing the scars of Perth last year, Ponting set South Africa the highest ever run target in a fourth innings of Test cricket, and has given his triumvate of pacemen 170 overs to seal the series.

Without Smith, the Proteas batting line-up all jumped one up with Hashim Amla opening with Neil Mckenzie.

They made a far more encouraging start than in the first dig, as they added 63 before Mckenzie was caught behind off a fine Peter Siddle legcutter.

Amla, not for the first time this summer, looked largely untroubled before suddenly flaying at a wide one from Siddle to be caught by Ponting at second slip.

“The pitch has deteriorated, but not too unfavourably,” the Dolphins star later explained.

“Every one of Australia’s bowlers has proved to be dangerous at some point, but they may miss not having the option of a specialist spinner.”

The visitors certainly seemed to struggle in the afternoon, as Jacques Kallis (84) and de Villiers (64) efficiently gathered 164 runs for the unbroken third wicket stand.

By stumps Ponting had turned to Simon Katich, the occasional left arm wrist spinner, and he did enough to suggest he may prove tricky later today.

Critical to the outcome of this second Test will be the first session, as Australia have the luxury of the second new ball to call upon immediately.

Siddle, the only wicket-taker yesterday, admitted that the first hour would hold the key to the day’s proceedings.

“The new nut has obviously played a big part in the match so far, and we will look to use it well and hopefully get an early breakthrough,” he said.

“Kallis and AB have looked pretty solid, so we will have to try and get rid of one of them early.”

The bustling Victorian also dismissed suggestions of the Aussie pacemen struggling with the workload of toiling without a spinner.

“We only bowled about 13 or 15 overs apiece in the first innings, so we are all pretty fresh and raring to go,” he enthused.

Siddle also revealed that his foot injury was holding up well, and he will be key to Ponting’s plans today.

“I reckon it will be a long, exciting day and we will just have to stay patient and upbeat if it doesn’t happen for us early on,” he added.

For the Proteas, Kallis will be the rock they build around. His presence alone raises hopes, and if he is still there at day’s end he could well have that elusive double century in the bag.

But, as he has oft stated, records mean nothing in a losing cause.

South Africa will be simply looking to bat out 90 overs. If they achieve this, without the talismanic Smith, it will hardly matter who is at the crease at the end.

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