Most of you reading this on 29 December will be at work, I guess. I hope you can follow the cricket while you are there, can have a long lunch and can find some avenues of light duties. I think that was the main objective of the Australian cricket team on Day 3 of the 2nd Test between Australia and South Africa.
I had two dreams – no nightmares – on Saturday night. In one, I botched the organisation of one of my best friend’s 40th birthday party. In the other, Australia just couldn’t get South Africa out and they made 600. I admit that I have a tormented mind but I cannot believe how close to the truth the latter nightmare was.
I can’t believe how close to Australia’s most recent bowling effort today was. It was stunning cricket from South Africa but Australia’s ineptitude was even more eye opening. South Africa ended day 2 on the ropes at 7/198 – almost a full 200 runs behind Australia. Australia had done everything right on day 2. The selectors had been vindicated. Siddle was retained and showed that he did have the right stuff. Horrie bowled tightly and picked up a couple of wickets. All but one of the danger men were removed and all that was left was for Australia to deliver the killer blow.
Not in anyone’s wildest dreams could it have been imagined that South Africa could bat for more than five hours and add a further 261 runs for the final three wickets – a lead of 65 runs.
Cricket is a game of momentum, initiative and turning points. I’m afraid Ponting must accept much of the responsibility for Australia inexplicably losing its way. It is happening time and time again and it is not simply because the bowlers are no good. They were good enough in the first innings in Perth. Even more so they were good enough on Day 2 in Melbourne. I say “even more so” because it was more of a team effort than the one man show in Perth.
Sure, Brett Lee was missing but in truth, at present, that is no great loss. Australia started the day with a ball that was 71 overs old. From the outset, Ponting acted like he was waiting for the new ball. In those nine overs, despite the loss of Harris, Australia lost the impetus and South Africa took control. It is inept captaincy by Ponting. Is that what the team management told him to do? The new ball was mostly wasted with the bowling too short and too wide and punishment was dealt out.
Dale Steyn made 76 runs. He is not what you would call handy with the bat. Well he was today but before today, his average was just under 10. His previous high score was 33 not out. Get the picture? How does that happen? The partnership of 180 runs was the 3rd highest 9th wicket partnership in Test cricket ever. It was just 15 runs of the record. How is that Simon Katich didn’t get a single over all day. Surely that was worth a try – South Africa has traditionally struggle against wrist spin and tail enders in general tend too. Katich may not be the best wrist spinner in the world but he is not the worst.
It is true that nothing went right – there were dropped catches (worst was Ponting himself, dropping Steyn on 32), over throws, plays and misses galore, balls over the slips, balls through the slips, near misses, French cuts, penalties for the ball hitting the helmet and Hussey doing his best impression of Comedies Capers. Hussey appeared to lose a skied shot in the sun – he had ample time to get under the ball, adjust his cap and floss his teeth but in one of the more bizarre things I have seen on a cricket field the ball landed about two metres from a bemused Mr Cricket. I’m not a bad lip reader and I think he called down lightning, but none came. His life was cruelly spared.
The most worrying thing is that it seems to be Ponting who loses his nerve first. The exasperated expressions, the frustrated and pained gestures come all too easily and frequently. Off with his head. I don’t see him imitating Kim Hughes with a tearful resignation – that would never happen – but his captaincy is every bit as poor as Kim Hughes’ – the Kim Hughes who had no answers in 1981.
At any rate, it is a ripper Test once again. Australia will have to play well over the next two days or they will risk becoming the new chokers. One thing South Africa did today was play Australia out of the game. It’s hard to see Australia having time to make a declaration, especially after South Africa’s last two innings. That means there can only be one winner in the match. The very best Australia can hope for is a series draw.