There are arguments that Test cricket is on the decline. However, a contest between two of the most talented sides, on an iconic ground famous for producing pitches that assist seam bowling, in front of an expectant crowd, shows us why such arguments might be a little bit premature.
Australia and South Africa put on a classic on the first day of the first Test between the two nations at the WACA, Perth. The visitors South Africa won the toss and elected to bat. The start of the Australian Summer of cricket saw their pace spearhead, Mitchell Starc, opening the bowling with the red cherry, a sight Australian fans have been longing to see after his troubles with injuries.
Australia turn on the heat
The visitors were immediately subjected to a trial by fire as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood came steaming in and bowled dangerous lines. It did not take a long time for Australia to strike, in fact, it took them nearly four balls to dismiss opener Stephen Cook for 0. The tall, promising all-rounder Mitchell Marsh took a blinder in the slips, almost as a warning to the South Africans about the momentous task they had ahead of them.
It did not stop there. Hashim Amla was the next to depart, nicking a delivery to Australian captain Steven Smith, who was positioned at second slip. The warning bells were loud and clear.
The Australians were on the prowl for more.
South Africa’s captain would have to walk in much earlier than he would have liked, with his side at 20/3 inside the first hour of play. While he looked solid upon his arrival to the crease, he would lose his partner JP Duminy to a peach of a delivery from Peter Siddle.
With the trio of Starc, Hazlewood, and Siddle ripping up the top-order, it was up to the middle order to rebuild South Africa’s innings. For a while, with Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma at the crease, it looked like they had taken the sting out of the Australian bowling.
When Faf nicked a delivery from Mitchell Starc to the slips, Quinton de Kock came out to join Bavuma.
The duo would go on to put up South Africa’s biggest partnership of the innings of 71. While Bavuma was more resolute in defense, Quinton de Kock, being a natural stroke maker, found runs easier to come by.
Temba Bavuma knew he was in for the toughest test of his fledgling career when he traveled to South Africa. He had impressed in his 10 Tests prior to the one at the WACA, with there being calls for him to be promoted up the order.
On a tough batting wicket at the WACA, he excelled, stitching together a superb half-century under pressure. He had recorded 7 boundaries on his way to his 3rd half century.
Batting on 51, he took his guard to face up to Nathan Lyon.
Nathan Lyon did not have to do too much work as the pacers had done the bulk of the damage earlier in the day. However, he struck when it most mattered.
He drifted a short ball in on leg-stump, the ball spun just an inch, and as Bavuma looked to get back in his crease and work it towards fine leg, the ball bobbled up off his pads after ricocheting off his bat.
In these situations, time generally slows down for the people involved. At first sight, Bavuma must have thought he was safe as it appeared to be at a comfortable distance from Shaun Marsh at short leg.
Shaun Marsh emulated, and arguably, outdid the catch by his brother earlier in the day by flinging himself to the right, displaying incredible athleticism and reflexes to get under the delivery and pouch it just before it bounced.
The fielders came rushing in to congratulate Marsh on the incredible catch. Fielding at short leg is one of the toughest and most under-appreciated skills in the game of cricket, and Marsh showed the importance of the position with an unbelievable catch.
Bavuma was the last of the recognized batsmen for South Africa. He got out at a crucial juncture when the momentum just appeared to be swinging towards the visitors. Without the support of his partners, Quinton de Kock would go on to put on a valiant knock of 84. As the wickets kept falling at the other hand, de Kock was forced to go for the boundaries, and, got out on one such delivery that he might not have played had Bavuma been there at the other end.
Despite de Kock’s best efforts, South Africa were bundled out for 242 in the first innings. When Bavuma and de Kock were going well, it appeared that South Africa would have posted a 300+ total, which would have added more pressure on the Aussies.
At the end of day 1, Australia raced to 105/0, reducing the deficit to merely 137 runs. They are in a good position to strike on day 2 and post a commanding lead.