Australia 112 for 4 (Warner 65*, Lyon 12*) trail South Africa 423 (Duminy 123, de Villiers 116, Lyon 5-130)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
After two days in the first Test South Africa were all but out of the contest. After two days at St George’s Park, they have turned the tables to leave Australia under considerable pressure. Hundreds from AB de Villiers and JP Duminy lifted them to a strong total, but the most significant advances South Africa made came in the final session when they claimed four wickets including two in Wayne Parnell‘s first over in Test cricket for four years.
Australia’s dominance of their recent Tests has been almost absolute and worthy of much admiration, but this was a situation they had not been in for some time: replying to a healthy first-innings by the opposition. Australia had not conceded 400 in an innings since the Mohali Test last March – or spent as long in the field as the 150.4 overs here since Hyderabad, on the same tour – and throughout their run of six consecutive, hefty victories their top order has remained vulnerable.
Once again they stumbled. Chris Rogers survived a review for lbw in Dale Steyn’s first over, but could not save himself with the DRS when Vernon Philander straightened one into his pads. However, it was Parnell’s introduction in the 10th over that really stung Australia. His first ball angled across Alex Doolan and took a thin edge to de Villiers; on a slow pitch, the first nick off a seamer to have carried behind the wicket in the match. Then, like London buses, there was another two balls later when Shaun Marsh lunged away from his body at a delivery shaping away from the left hander.
Australia were 41 for 3, but David Warner, who had already leapt out of the blocks, and Michael Clarke responded with a flurry of boundaries. Clarke, though, was cut off for 19 when he drove early at Philander and gave a catch to short cover and, again, Australia were four down for under a hundred. They have regularly fought back from such positions, but the difference this time is that the opposition have runs on the board.
And it could have been ever better for South Africa. Morne Morkel bowled a hostile spell, extracting more bounce from the pitch than any other quick, and produced a delivery which climbed at Warner when he had 43. It took the shoulder of the bat, flying through to de Villiers, but the keeper was stood closer to compensate for the low bounce and the ball burst through the gloves above his head. As so often, it was edge-of-the-seat batting from Warner as he moved to a 55-ball half-century. Then to cap a dramatic session, Nathan Lyon survived an edge down the leg side when Graeme Smith was not convinced to review before being dropped by Duminy in the gully in the final over of the day.
When South Africa resumed on 214 for 5, the match was still in Australia’s favour after a series of poor shots from the middle order on day one. The hosts desperately needed their last pair of specialist batsmen to form a substantial stand. That is exactly what they delivered as de Villiers and Duminy added 149 for the sixth wicket.
De Villiers already had a world record to his name when he resumed on 51 having made it 12 consecutive Tests with at least a half-century and he converted that into his 19th Test hundred from 202 deliveries as he countered a slow pitch with elegant and, at times, powerful strokeplay.
While de Villiers stood out, his class and brilliance is in no doubt. But he needed some support, which was horribly lacking at Centurion Park. Duminy’s innings was equally important from both a personal and team perspective. He is battling to cement a permanent spot in the side and came in for significant criticism for his first-innings shot at Centurion when he lofted Lyon to mid-off.
He dominated the strike in the early overs the day, when play began 20 minutes early due the bad light yesterday, and gave South Africa a punchy start with four boundaries in the first four overs. Three of those came in one Mitchell Johnson over when he clipped two deliveries off his pads then pulled a third through midwicket. By Australia’s recent high standards, their use of the new ball, which they took when play began, was disappointing. It was the confidence boost Duminy and South Africa needed.
For the first time in seven innings Duminy passed fifty and in the knowledge that the ball would not be rearing at his throat – even from Johnson – had a far more confident presence at the crease. He employed the sweep regularly against Lyon (as did de Villiers) and was quick onto any error in length as fatigue started to play a part, causing Lyon to offer up the occasional short delivery. It was a sweep, in front of square, that raised his hundred, which Duminy greeted with understated but satisfied acknowledgement.
The contest between de Villiers and Lyon had been fascinating. Back-to-back boundaries, the first a sweep and the second a back-foot drive, showed what makes him a great batsman with impeccable judgement of length and crisp footwork and brought up three figures with another crisp sweep shot. Clarke had taken innovation to a new level in his attempt to conjure a breakthrough. At one stage he had four catchers in the midwicket area, but de Villiers responded in the most brilliant and audacious fashion when he flicked Siddle over the leg side for six.
South Africa may have had designs of accelerating when de Villiers pushed a return catch back to Lyon, who took it well diving to his right. During the morning session, largely due to de Villiers, runs came at more than three an over which was significantly above what had been achieved before. However, his departure seven overs into the afternoon slowed South Africa’s progress with Duminy working hard to for his own three-figure score and Clarke, while never abandoning his search for wickets, setting fields to dry up runs.
Philander pottered around for 37 deliveries over six runs before driving a low return catch to Clarke who put his back through a rare bowl among a host of afternoon bowling changes and the final four wickets fell for 45 either side of tea. That, though, ensured South Africa did not get drawn into wasting time for a few extra runs; the value of the damage they were then able to do to Australia was worth much more.