Diary of a drawn Test match

2012-11-17 00:00

DAY ONE

FROM the toss, luck runs with the Proteas. The South Africans omit Imran Tahir in favour of Rory Kleinveldt, but surprisingly have gone in without a front line spinner preferring to pack the attack with four pacemen plus Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy as a back up spinner. Is this the first sign that Kallis will bowl less?

Graeme Smith survives a decision review in the third over, but succumbs to another one soon afterwards. The Aussies appear irritated that the umpires are favouring the Proteas with the marginal calls when, just after lunch, Alviro Petersen is fortunate to escape an appeal for what looks like a straightforward LBW. The Aussies review and lose again. No reviews left with only one wicket down. This could cost them.

Petersen then gives his wicket away when a big score was his for the taking. Cricket is an unforgiving game. He may pay for this indiscretion with some poor form later in the series.

Kallis joins the imperturbable Hashim Amla and bats with imperious confidence until he mistakenly reverts to T20 mode. He skies a daft shot only to be reprieved when it is found that Siddle has overstepped the mark. The Aussies almost explode with frustration when Peter Siddle then drops Amla.

Sobered by their good fortune, Amla and Kallis play out the day without taking any risks. At close of play the score is 255 for two with the two men close to centuries. This is as good a start as the Proteas could have wished, but they will not have a day with more luck.

DAY TWO

RAIN, all day.

Luck turns against the Proteas with a vengeance. The loss of a full day makes a result unlikely on this featherbed of a pitch. In the old days of canvas covers, heavy rain invariably resulted in a sticky dog. In the 1950 Ashes Test at the Gabba, England were caught on such a pitch after bowling Australia out for 228.

England deemed it wise to declare their first innings at 68 for seven. Australia responded by closing their second innings at 32 for seven. They then bowled the Poms out for 122 to win by 60 runs.

But this is now and sticky dogs belong to history. Smith will probably try a declaration that puts the Aussies under some pressure, but this match has “draw” written all over it.

The real blow to the Proteas is the loss of JP Duminy to another training ground incident. His summer is over. Will this be a chance for Faf du Plessis? Or will Thami Tsolikele take the gloves? I think not.

DAY THREE

THE day opens with an end-of-term feel after all that rain. Centuries are duly completed by Amla and Kallis. Hashim is given out LBW soon afterwards and declines, wrongly, to send the decision for review. He must learn to take greater care with his wicket.

Thereafter, the Proteas meander to a total of 450 when the real business begins with the start of the Aussie innings. Within an hour the home team is wobbling at 40 for three. Another duck for Ricky Ponting has added to the ammunition of those who want him dropped.

Further success eludes the Proteas and the day ends with ominous portents. Ed Cowan and Michael Clarke appear alarmingly comfortable against the pedestrian bowling of Philander and Kleinveldt. Tomorrow could be a long day for Smith and his bowlers.

DAY FOUR

THE South African bowlers endure a miserable day. The lone wicket of Cowan comes by means of a fluky run out. The attack was more like a defence and not much of one at that. So impotent are the bowlers that Smith is reduced to bowling everyone except Rudolph, who can actually bowl some decent wrist spin.

One hopes the futility of failing to play a recognised spinner is not lost on Gary Kirsten.

Poor Kleinveldt has a rough debut. He bowls a host of no balls and has the misfortune of seeing Dale Steyn drop an easy chance for his first Test wicket.

The Aussies not only score almost 400 runs in the day to give themselves an outside chance of victory, but win the first psychological battle of the series.

DAY FIVE

THE match enters its last hour before the captains bow to the inevitable and agree a draw.

The Aussies make a spirited effort to force a win, but the placid pitch has the last word. In 2010, on this pitch, England made 517 for one after Hussey and Haddon had shared a stand of 307 in Australia’s first innings.

With such a pitch, no game can afford the loss of a day. The South Africans have not played a Test at the Gabba since 1963. The bowlers will be hoping that they do not play one there for another 50 years.

When wickets are as rare as Tasmanian virgins, it is ironic that three batsmen were reprieved by belated no balls. This is spoiling the game and immensely frustrating for the bowlers. No one likes to see a batsman dismissed only to have the third umpire overrule the decision with a marginal call for overstepping.

Asking a fast bowler to plant his front foot with pinpoint accuracy is like requiring a left-handed drunk to unlock a door with his other hand.

The lawmakers must either revert to the old back foot law which is easily monitored by the on-field umpires or give the crease to the bowlers. I put the latter suggestion to the ICC in 1998, but it was rejected on the ground that the crease belongs to the umpire.

I thought this was a pathetic argument then and still do.

In any case, in all other matters the crease “belongs” to the fielding side.

So the Aussies win the first Test on points, but this is a cricket series when only knockout blows count. I wonder if either side has the firepower for such a blow in Adelaide. It may all come down to Perth.

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