A Day to forget

2009-03-06 00:00

Australia took a firm grip of the second Test, and the series, by piling up 303 for four on the first day at Kingsmead yesterday, with openers Philip Hughes and Simon Katich notching contrasting centuries.

As first sessions go it was probably South Africa’s worst in the last 18 months. Graeme Smith lost a fifth straight Test toss, and that set the tone for a first hour to forget.

After a minute’s silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Pakistan this week, the Proteas struggled to rouse themselves in a first session that saw some decidedly ordinary bowling from Smith’s men.

“We had a strong word at lunch to the bowlers, and we improved as the day wore on,” Proteas coach Mickey Arthur said at the close of play.

Arthur said the gangly Morne Morkel bore the brunt of the lunch-time wake-up call. The Titans beanpole showed marked improvement after lunch, but the damage had been done in his first two overs.

Hughes (115) smashed four boundaries in Morkel’s second over, which eventually cost 21 runs and from there the Aussie openers made hay.

Hughes, who had an eventful debut in Johannesburg last week, helped himself to the festive fare on offer as he breezed to a maiden ton in his second Test.

“It was definitely an exciting time and one I will treasure forever,” Hughes said of his ton, which he reached by planting Paul Harris into the grass embankment for a second six.

His partner, Katich, simply fed him the strike as Australia cracked 18 fours as the hundred came up.

Lunch came with the score at 119 without loss, and the Aussies were ominously placed for a mammoth total. To SA’s credit, they bowled infinitely better after the break and the opening stand was finally ended on 194.

Hughes slashed Jacques Kallis to Neil Mckenzie at third slip and, to their relief, Ricky Ponting only made it to nine before trying to hoist Harris out the ground.

Mckenzie held the catch at deep-is mid-off.

Katich (108) reached a fifth century since returning to the Australian set up, but he was out soon after as a fiery Dale Steyn had him snaffled at slip by Smith.

Harris put some gloss on a tough day when Michael Clarke somehow missed a straight ball, but Michael Hussey (37) and Marcus North (17) added 39 to see Australia to the close of play.

“The first half an hour [today] will be crucial,” Arthur said. “We have the new ball, and hopefully we can knock them over as soon as possible because the pitch looks like it will get better and better to bat on.”

Australia’s first Test success at the Wanderers was built on their first innings total of 466. If they get anywhere near that today, they will almost certainly be in a position where they cannot lose.

And with that, they will retain their top Test side status.

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