• Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth

Australia ahead after bowlers' day

Daniel Brettig
November 30, 2012 « United without wingers for Reading test | Chartbeat test »
Australia 33 for 2 trail South Africa 225 (Du Plessis 78*, Lyon 3-41) by 192 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Mitchell Starc improved greatly in his second spell, finding the perfect length and just enough swing a few minutes before lunch © Getty Images
Enlarge

Though Perth is three hours behind the rest of Australia, the nature of the WACA ground pitch is to encourage a match in fast forward, and so it was again. A dramatically recast Australian team rued Faf du Plessis' composure for the second time in the space of four days as South Africa scrambled to 225 then snipped the top off Australia's batting order on day one of the third Test.

Twelve wickets fell for 257 runs, but with enough evidence between several rushes of wickets to suggest that batsmen will prosper at some point during the match. Du Plessis' exemplary, unbeaten 78 was compiled after he came to the wicket amidst the fall of 5 for 14 either side of lunch. It granted South Africa some sort of total to bowl at, enough for Dale Steyn and the fit-again Vernon Philander to nip out Ed Cowan and Shane Watson before the ball had lost its shine.

The WACA ground rose mistakenly to laud Ricky Ponting at the fall of Watson's wicket, but it was the nightwatchman Nathan Lyon who walked out instead. He did Ponting a major good turn in the 37-year-old's final Test by accompanying a somewhat jumpy David Warner to the close at 33 for 2.

Aside from the aforementioned period of frenzy, Australia found breakthroughs difficult to extract on a bouncy but true surface. The Australian bowlers shared the spoils, Mitchell Starc perhaps the pick with a pair of late inswingers to bowl Alviro Petersen and Jacques Kallis in the closing minutes of the morning session. Lyon vindicated his inclusion with 3 for 41, the debutant John Hastings and vice-captain Watson contributed important wickets, while Mitchell Johnson claimed two of his own and intimidated at times with well-directed short balls.

Lacking James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus due to their Adelaide exertions, Starc and Johnson were recalled while Hastings made his debut as the into-the-wind trundler so often favoured at the WACA ground.

Having been 12th man in Brisbane and Perth, Starc found himself taking the new ball at the start of the Test. There was some early swing for him and Petersen was given out LBW by the umpire Richard Kettleborough when one delivery curled back into the opener's pads, but a review had the ball going high and wide of the stumps.

That ball was not representative of the opening spells for either Starc nor Hastings, who both erred on the short side to give plenty of sighters to Petersen and Smith. Clarke called on Watson at first change and followed up with Johnson at the other end, and their spells signalled a change in the morning. Watson found a little movement either way and bowled a far better length, rewarded when Smith pushed out at ball going across him and edged to Clarke at slip.

Johnson produced some nasty deliveries to Smith and some compelling ones to Amla, beating the No. 3 for pace and length on more than one occasion. Having been given a firm idea of how to bowl by two more experienced WACA ground exponents, Starc improved greatly in his second spell. A few minutes before lunch he found the perfect length and just enough swing to burst through Petersen's drive, and in the next over produced a near identical delivery to do the same to Kallis.

South Africa thus ended the session in far worse shape than they had seemed likely to reach the interval for most of its duration. Starc had learned quickly, helped by the examples of Watson and Johnson. On resumption Hastings commenced an excellent spell up-wind, finding useful outswing in addition to sharp bounce.

Amla was fortunate when he flicked Hastings straight to midwicket in the first over, Cowan dropping a simple chance, but in the next he was caught somewhat short of the appropriate gear when De Villiers called a quick single, David Warner's direct hit finding Amla short and saving Cowan's blushes. Unnerved by the run-out, De Villiers walked into a delectable, swerving ball from Hastings in the next over and edged to Clarke at slip.

Elgar's first appearance at a Test batting crease was not pretty, as Johnson worked him around the crease with a hostile spell then completed a 12-ball duck with a short ball that the batsman gloved tamely to Wade when trying to hook. Peterson's first ball was full, fast and far too quick for the batsman, but it narrowly missed off stump.

Slowly Du Plessis and Peterson regathered some somewhat less shaky ground, punching the ball through the field and taking advantage of Perth's typically quick outfield. De Plessis eluded a concerted LBW appeal and referral by Watson when ball-tracking had the ball missing leg stump, and the pair had caught a glimpse of tea when Lyon was introduced.

There was evidence of loop, bounce and turn in Lyon's first over, and in his third a shortish ball bounced enough to draw a fatal error from Peterson. Philander contributed another nuisance lower order innings to follow up, however, advancing to loft Lyon into the crowd at wide long on before he skied to Michael Hussey when attempting a repeat. Lyon had moved around the wicket, and was rewarded further when he claimed the last man Morne Morkel, who had clumped a trio of boundaries from the bowling of Johnson after Steyn played on.

Left with a little under an hour to bat, Warner flashed absent-mindedly at Steyn's first delivery. His third angled teasingly across Cowan, who pushed at the line in expectation of some swing, but finding none succeeded only in edging to Kallis at slip for a golden duck. Watson late cut his first ball to the fence, but his tendency to plonk the front pad down the wicket was exploited by Philander, who had the plumbest of LBW decisions bizarrely refused by Asad Rauf. The inevitable review put that call to rights, and left Lyon to bravely protect Ponting until stumps.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Close