‘We let ourselves down’

2009-03-02 00:00

In the end it was a comprehensive victory as a total team performance by Australia overwhelmed a sporadic challenge from a home side well short of match practice.

Since their exploits in Australia, most of the Proteas had not played much cricket, never mind any intense first-class fare.

And that lack of sharpness showed in the first three days at the Wanderers. By the time Graeme Smith’s men roused themselves for a fight, Ricky Ponting’s new-look side had piled up 466 and rolled South Africa over for no much more than 200.

South Africa’s Herculean effort on the fourth day of the first Test only served to take a draw out of the equation.

It meant the Proteas had a target, and the Aussies had enough time to use two new balls to dispose of the home side.

Starting yesterday’s final day on 178 for two, South Africa needed one of their top six to bat through most of the day. As it transpired, every one got a start, but none followed through.

Hashim Amla scored a fourth, quality half-century against the world’s best side, but he would no doubt exchange a few of them for a gritty, match-defining century. His was the first wicket to fall yesterday as he flicked Peter Siddle straight to mid-wicket.

First inning centurion AB de Villiers didn’t last long as he played all round an Andrew McDonald delivery. De Villiers sheepishly requested a review, but his exit was hastily confirmed by the third umpire.

JP Duminy and Jacques Kallis then looked set to see out the truncated morning session through to lunch, but Kallis was the first casualty of the second new ball. He threw himself at a wide half-volley from Mitchell Johnson, but watched in dismay as the ball came off the inside edge and flicked his pad before trickling on to dislodge a solitary bail.

The Aussie celebrations were almost as hearty as those reserved for a Smith dismissal, testimony to the high regard they have for the burly all-rounder.

After lunch, Duminy briefly raised local hopes with some excellent drives, but he fell to a short ball that cramped him up. The Aussies insisted that they had plans to counter the “JP effect”, and they seem to be succeeding.

Mark Boucher toiled on manfully, but when he played a Ben Hilfenhaus delivery on to his stumps, the writing was on the wall.

“We were outplayed by a very good side,” was Smith’s straight bat assessment.

He was more descriptive when plotting the way forward to what is now a must-win second Test in Durban: “We will need to regroup as we let ourselves down here. There is a lot of work to do if we are to match this very good side.”

Fittingly, it was man of the match Johnson who had the final say, bowling Dale Steyn to seal victory by 162 runs.

“It was great to play a part in this gret win,” said the modest Johnson.

With match figures of eight for 135, and the small matter of 96 not out, Johnson’s contribution was telling.

“I guess I am the leader of the attack in a way, but I just tried to do the same things I have been doing.”

The Proteas will do well to start making plans to curb Johnson’s impact before the series is taken out of their hands.

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