Proteas grab the initiative

2009-03-19 00:00

FINALLY, the South Africans started a Test with the necessary intent. Belatedly, they forced the Australians on to the backfoot and did not let go of the initiative. Local fans will rue the fact that it took two failed attempts before they hit their straps.

Paul Harris, one of the heroes of yesterday’s effort, was in no doubt as to what had been the key to the day’s success.

“I think our bowlers finally turned up at the start of the match, instead of the middle or the end of the Test as we did in the first two,” he said.

Harris, who grew up in the Cape, clearly thrived in familiar surrounds, throttling the Ausssie top-order and chipping in with key wickets.

“I’ve always enjoyed playing down here as [Newlands] has unique conditions and gives some help to the spinner as the Test wears on.”

Harris may have provided the breakthrough, but it was Makhaya Ntini who really shone early on.

After Ricky Ponting won a scarcely believable sixth succesive toss against the Proteas, and batted yet again, Ntini produced a magnificent, but luckless, spell with the new ball. He had Simon Katich dropped by debutant Imraan Khan while conceding a mere seven runs in six overs.

“Makkie was brilliant today,” Harris said. “He led us, and even when he had that chance put down, he kept things very tight.”

Australia had to make a change to their side from Kingsmead when Marcus North failed to recover from illness, handing the soon to be 37-year-old Bryce McGain a Test debut. The Victorian leg-spinner would have been mightily relieved at finally getting his baggy green, as injury cost him a Test bow in India last year and had threatened to do the same on this tour.

The lanky Harris accounted for both openers, Phillip Hughes trapped in front and Katich ending a torturous vigil by skying a curious attempt to slog-sweep.

Albie Morkel had a peach of a ball feathered by Ponting (0), and Dale Steyn snared the key pair of Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke to really turn up the heat on the tourists.

With Brad Haddin (42) threatening to cut loose, Harris again stepped up to trap him in front straight after tea.

Ntini, after a frustrating morning, got rid of an unconvincing Andrew McDonald and Peter Siddle in the space of three balls.

Mitchell Johnson (35) hung around dangerously, but he was smartly snapped up by a running Ashwell Prince as Steyn finished with two more wickets to achieve four for 56.

Australia’s 209 all out certainly looked below par on a slow-ish track that will probably be at its best for batting today and tomorrow.

The new Proteas opening pair of Khan and Prince showed little in the way of nerves as they raced to 38 by the sixth over.

Prince in particular was brutal on anything loose, and they will be looking to build on their promising start this morning.

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