By Ghulam Haider
Australia broke the jinx as they crushed South Africa in a thumping triumph in the Boxing Day Test by an innings and 182 runs as the Aussies claimed a first home series win against Proteas since the 2005-06 summer.
The result meant South Africa’s streak of three successive series victories in Australia cannot become four and they go to Sydney with their World Test Championship (WTC) final hopes hanging by a thread. They must win the final match of the series to stay in contention for the final.
On the evidence of their batting so far, that seems a long shot. They avoided being dismissed for under 200 for an eighth successive Test innings but were bowled out inside 69 overs in the second innings at the MCG. Temba Bavuma was the only batter to reach a half-century and his 63-run fifth wicket stand with Kyle Verreynne was the only partnership that grew to over 50. No other South African scored more than Verreynne’s 33.
Nathan Lyon enjoyed the most success among the Australian attack and finished with 3 for 58. Scott Boland was among the wickets against and finished two but mention must be made of Pat Cummins’ strangling effort – he bowled 16 overs and only conceded 20 runs – and his use of the DRS. Australia reviewed the decisions to remove Sarel Erwee and Marco Jansen successfully, which proved crucial in hastening the final outcome.
So too, a word for Mitchell Starc‘s bravery. Starc bowled with a damaged middle finger and repeatedly had to mop up blood from his opening wound. As a result and despite being without Cameron Green, Australia only required two overs from Steven Smith’s part-time legspin. It was he who finished the match, bowling Lungi Ngidi, to end the Shane Warne Test in fitting style.
South Africa would be particularly disappointed with their two run-outs and the number of soft dismissals. Even to the uncritical eye, there were several batters who could have made better choices in shot selections or stance and the means by which they were removed suggests the deep-set problems in technique and mindset in the line-up remain.
Dean Elgar was the first to be dismissed, on the third evening, when he chased a Cummins delivery off his hip down leg and edged behind. That was the second time in the series Elgar had been dismissed in the same fashion.
Sarel Erwee has also been guilty of going out the same way: most often by driving loosely outside the off stump but appeared tighter in the second innings. He worked his way to his highest score of the series – 21 – before he was hit on the toe by a Starc yorker in front of middle and leg. Cummins reviewed and ball-tracking confirmed the delivery would go on to hit the stumps which gave them their first wicket of the morning.
At the other end, Theunis de Bruyn was unconvincing as the new No. 3. He inside-edged Cummins short of Alex Carey, outside-edged Starc short of Smith at second slip and nicked Boland short of third slip. His luck ran out when he slashed Boland over the slips before his luck ran out. He was kept on the back foot and edged a back of a length Boland delivery to second slip, where Smith took the catch despite Marnus Labuschagne diving across him.
It was up to Bavuma and Khaya Zondo to rebuild but they struggled to get going and frustration got the better of their stand. They scored just three runs from 29 balls between them when Bavuma called Zondo through for a single after pushing Cummins to mid-off. Zondo responded but Travis Head’s throw to the striker’s end was quick
and accurate and found him well short of his ground.
South Africa’s last recognised batting pair – Bavuma and Verreynne – took them to lunch and presented the best opportunity to push back. Verreynne brought out his shots immediately and was off the mark with a reverse sweep off Lyon while Bavuma was strong on the cover drive and the sweep. Australia could have removed Bavuma in the over after lunch when he edged Cummins short of first slip but instead got rid of Verreynne in the next over. He was hit on the knee roll by a Boland ball that nipped back into him and was given out lbw, only to review in vain.
Jansen was also dismissed lbw when he missed a Lyon ball and was hit on the back pad and it took a well-judged review by Cummins to confirm the ball would go on to hit the top of leg stump.
With only the lower-order to bat with, Bavuma was involved in another mix-up when he and Keshav Maharaj attempted to run three off a Starc delivery that Maharaj pushed into the covers. Bavuma was hesitant to take the third run but Maharaj was committed and was halfway down the track when Starc fired in a throw at the non-striker’s end to run him out. In the next over, Bavuma slog swept Lyon to the right mid-wicket where Marcus Harris, the substitute fielder, took a simple catch. If there was a shot that served as a metaphor for South Africa throwing in the towel, that was it.
Kagiso Rabada also fell to a slog, when he hit Lyon to mid-on. Ngidi had a bit of fun and slammed his first six in Test cricket when he smoked Lyon over midwicket and then brought up the South African 200 when he found the gap past long-on. While he and Anrich Nortje pushed South Africa into an extended three tea session, they were never going to last too long and Ngidi was bowled five minutes before the interval would have been taken.