Philander and Abbott give South Africa control on Day 1
After a dispiriting defeat to a weakened South Africa in the opening Test in Perth, it seemed unfathomable Australia could sink any lower. On the first day of a defining second Test at the Bellerive Oval, Australia somehow sunk further in the mud after suffering their worst batting performance on home soil in 32 years.
In seaming conditions on a grassy pitch, Australia was humiliatingly bowled out for 85 in less than 33 overs on Saturday (November 12). Only a late fightback engineered by Mitch Starc (3 for 49 from 15 overs) ensured Australia saved some face but South Africa reached stumps at 171 for 5, with a lead of 86. Temba Bavuma is 38 not out and Quinton de Kock remains unbeaten on 28.
South Africa were cruising at 43 for 0 but Starc conjured a trademark mesmerising burst after Tea, taking three quick wickets to inspire an Australian comeback. Starc trapped Dean Elgar (17) first ball after tea and quickly claimed the scalps of Stephen Cook (23) and JP Duminy (1) as the Proteas lost 3 for 3 to energise a small crowd, which had been shell-shocked by the proceedings earlier in the day.
Hashim Amla (47 off 67 balls) thwarted Australia’s attack with a slew of beautiful drives to negate the swing. However Amla fell late in the day when he was caught behind off Josh Hazelwood to ensure Australia had a glimmer of hope.
Despite Starc’s late heroics, it was undeniably a dirty day for Australia, one which is set to have major ramifications and could initiate a shake-up of the team and organisation. Only captain Steve Smith (unbeaten 48 from 80 balls) showed the necessary tenacity and technique to combat South Africa’s probing pacemen, who deftly exploited the sharp movement conjured from a grassed pitch.
Debutant Joe Mennie, batting at No. 8, was the only other batsman who notched double figures, making just 10. Apart from Smith, no other Australian batsman faced more than 25 deliveries in a pitiful display. It was their lowest total at home since 1984 and worst first innings in Australia since 1951.
After Faf du Plessis elected to bowl under dark clouds, suggesting rain was imminent at any stage, Australia’s top-order was routed in another startling collapse. During one inglorious stretch, the home side lost 6 for 29 in another prime example of their inability to effectively cope with conditions favouring seam and swing.
Veteran paceman Vernon Philander (5 for 21) was almost unplayable through his ability to jag the ball around on a good line and length. There was apprehension for South Africa when Philander went off the ground with a shoulder injury after colliding with Smith during a prolonged LBW shout. It appeared South Africa may have unluckily lost another key bowler early, after Dale Steyn broke down on Day 2 in Perth. Fortunately, Philander returned and he was ably supported by the recalled Kyle Abbott (3 for 41) who was preferred over veteran quick Morne Morkel as Steyn’s replacement.
Australia’s slide started in the first over when Dave Warner was caught behind after slashing at a wide Philander delivery. Considering the circumstances, it was an abominable shot from Australia’s vice-captain and his recklessness was indicative of the team’s inability to adapt to the conditions. On his return to the Test team after being dumped in Sri Lanka, opener Joe Burns (1) lasted just eight deliveries before shuffling across his stumps and falling lbw to Abbott.
Worse was to come with out-of-form No. 5 Adam Voges falling first ball when he nicked Philander to ensure his position is hanging by a thread. Eleven months ago, Voges scored 269 against the West Indies at the same ground but if Australia does indeed lose his Test career could well be over. When Voges trudged off the ground, Australia was astonishingly sinking in quicksand at 8 for 4 with Philander on a hat-trick.
For debutant Callum Ferguson, who replaced struggling allrounder Mitchell Marsh, it was an arduous initiation few have ever experienced. The South Australian managed to stymie Philander’s attempted hat-trick but his first Test knock ended in heartbreak when Ferguson (3) was run out on a direct hit from substitute wicketkeeper Dane Vilas, who had initially misfielded. Ferguson slipped while turning for the second run and his unfortunate dismissal was too much to bear for his flabbergasted brother in the grandstand, who was captured by television cameras walking out of his seat in dismay.
Australia slumped to 31 for 6 when Kagiso Rabada, the hero in Perth, claimed his only wicket of the innings by trapping wicketkeeper Peter Nevill. Mennie aside, Australia’s tail was unable to provide the necessary support for Smith as South Africa’s outstanding bowling was perfectly complemented by scintillating fielding.
Australia’s dilapidated batting ended when de Kock spectacularly dived to his right to dismiss Nathan Lyon. It was a fitting snapshot of their contrasting fortunes, as South Africa are now firmly entrenched in the box seat to win their third consecutive series in Australia.
Amazingly, contradicting prognostications, there was barely any rain but the forecast for day two is dire with the possibility of play being washed out. However, Australia will need much more than inclement weather to save this Test and series.
Brief scores: Australia 85 (Steven Smith 48*, Joe Mennie 10; Vernon Philander 5-21, Kyle Abbott 3-41) trail South Africa 171/5 (Hashim Amla 47, Temba Bavuma 38*; Mitchell Starc 3-49, Josh Hazlewood 2-36) by 42 runs