South Africa 242 (de Kock 84, Bavuma 51, Starc 4-71, Hazlewood 3-70) and 8 for 540 dec (Duminy 141, Elgar 127, Philander 73, de Kock 64) beat Australia 244 (Warner 97, S Marsh 63, Philander 4-56, Maharaj 3-56) and 361 (Khawaja 97, Nevill 60*, Rabada 5-92) by 177 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
‘Criticism of Mitchell Marsh lbw was interesting’
When Dale Steyn walked off the field clutching his broken right shoulder on Friday, you had to wonder if South Africa would remain competitive. It was not yet lunch on day two, and Australia were 1 for 166 in reply to 242. Already the visitors were without their captain and best batsman AB de Villiers, who did not make this tour due to injury. Now 417 Test wickets were leaving the field, not to return in this series. What could South Africa possibly do from there?
From that moment on, they won virtually every session of the Test. They did so with no further contributions from Steyn, none from de Villiers, and all but none from Hashim Amla, the No.2-ranked Test batsman in the world, who in this match scored 0 and 1. And they did so against a team that since 1988 had not lost the opening Test of a home summer. At the WACA, that 28-year drought ended in emphatic fashion as South Africa won by 177 runs.
At the heart of the victory was Kagiso Rabada, the 21-year-old fast bowler to whom for the past year Steyn has symbolically been passing South Africa’s pace baton. Here, Rabada simply ran away with it, destroying Australia in the second innings with pace, bounce, seam, conventional swing, reverse swing, searing yorkers, the ability to target cracks in the pitch. In short, almost every weapon that makes a fast bowler dangerous. He finished with 5 for 92, and seven wickets for the Test.
But he had plenty of assistance. Vernon Philander, the most experienced bowler in Steyn’s absence, led in the first innings with 4 for 56, and added one more in the second. He also struck an invaluable 73 with the bat. Keshav Maharaj, the only spinner ever to make his Test debut at the WACA, was accurate and tight, claimed three first-innings wickets and the match-winning dismissal before tea on day five. Dean Elgar, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock led with the bat.
And then there was Temba Bavuma, who couldn’t be kept out of the action. Having scored a fighting half-century in the first innings – remember, South Africa were 4 for 32 on the first day, and then 5 for 81 – Bavuma produced one of the all-time great run-outs on day four to end any hope of David Warner saving Australia. Then on day five when asked to bowl to give the strike men a rest, Bavuma hit a crack first ball and would have had Usman Khawaja lbw for 84 – except he had over-stepped.
It didn’t matter. Khawaja was accounted for three overs later when he played back to another part-timer stepping up to share the load, the offspinner JP Duminy, and was lbw for 97. He was Australia’s last specialist batsman and with him went any lingering hope they may have had of hanging on for a draw, though Peter Nevill did his best to fight as the day wore on. But Australia had been outplayed by South Africa since the end of day one.
Their victory target was 539, but it was an irrelevant figure. It might as well have been 539,000. Never was this Australia XI going to rewrite Test history on a cracking pitch. Batting out nearly five sessions for a draw would be almost as hard. Australia began the final day on 4 for 169, with Khawaja and Mitchell Marsh at the crease, and it took only until the eighth over of the day for Rabada to break that stand.
Using reverse swing, Rabada hooped a yorker in to Marsh, who was rapped on the foot and survived an lbw shout. However, South Africa asked for a review and despite the late swing, the ball was shown to be crashing into leg stump, overturning the umpire’s decision and sending Marsh on his way for 26. The Khawaja-Marsh partnership had been worth 50 and occupied 16 overs, but those numbers were trifling compared to what Australia required.
Khawaja was the next to fall, and Rabada confirmed his five-for by trapping Mitchell Starc lbw to another inswinging yorker for 13 before the lunch break. In the next session, Philander had Peter Siddle lbw, before Josh Hazlewood joined Nevill for a partnership that frustrated the South Africans for 20 overs. It was Australia’s third-highest and third-longest stand of the game, but only served to highlight the failures up the order.
Nevill and Hazlewood were threatening to make it to tea when, shortly before the break, Hazlewood closed the face and his leading edge was caught at cover, and at length Bavuma had his maiden Test wicket. The half-hour extension of the session was taken, and Maharaj eventually finished the job by trapping Nathan Lyon lbw. Nevill remained unbeaten on 60 from 153 balls, one of few Australians who will take much from this Test.
The reality is that this match slipped away from Australia on day two, when they lost 10 for 86, beginning with Steyn’s only wicket of the match. South Africa will go to Hobart 1-0 up the series, and remain undefeated in Tests at the WACA. And all this without their best batsman and having lost their finest bowler to injury on the second morning. What could South Africa do from there? A better question: what couldn’t they do?
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