Confidence was never in doubt in the Australian camp as they began the first test at Centurion February 12th. On the other side of the coin, South Africa held the mantle of the top-ranked test team.
Inside of four days of test cricket, one team stumbled but recovered in spectacular and dominating fashion. The other, so enamoured by what they saw from the visitors, fell and did so with little grace.
When it came to the crunch, South Africa simply had no answer to the left-arm dynamo Mitchell Johnson, who finished with career-best match figures of 12/127. Hashim Amla’s first ball in the second innings was a monster that reared off the deck, through the gap between his arms and smashed flush into the centre of the helmet grille. From there, little could be done to stop the Australian onslaught.
Before even looking at the Proteas XI, missing the important work that Alex Doolan did would be criminal. First, after a steady 27 in the first dig, the Tasmanian scored a shining 89 which helped set up an aggressive declaration.
Then came the best bit; two stunning reflexes catches at short leg, first snaring a bewildered Graeme Smith, and then a one-two-three instinct grab to dismiss J.P. Duminy. Captain Michael Clarke’s summation was, “not bad, is he?”
Facing the world’s number one bowling attack was no easy task either, though Doolan stood up to the challenge, and in Clarke’s eyes, there’s hardly a better one to come across so early in a test career.
Being sent into bat by South African captain Smith, Australia didn’t exactly set the world ablaze, rocking and floating to 4/98. Enter Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh, and the start of a staunch resistance contest. The result was huge – a match-defining 233 run partnership that saw both batsmen post enduring and classy centuries on a beautiful Centurion deck. Come South Africa’s first innings, only AB de Villiers (91) stood up in a total of 206; Johnson’s 7/68 almost completely overshadowed a gutsy performance.
Smith took a snipe at his own team, and at the same time barely scratched the surface on the match that went so wrong.
“It’s about not getting caught up in the emotions. It’s important for us to be smart. We just didn’t hit our straps in any department throughout the four days…we’ve lost a game of cricket and we’ve been beaten comprehensively. It’s important that we move away now.”
That’s enough to make even the best of the best shudder and snap out of a reverie. On this occasion, no such thing happened.
Johnson’s remarkable return to form, and a swag of wickets (49) in his last six tests, has made even the good players look bad. First it was Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, now it’s Smith, de Villiers and co.
When sifting through the first test achievements, missing David Warner’s 115 in the second innings – that of which set up the eventually unassailable lead – would again be reminisce of an Australian team that has surprised everyone.
Conditions at South African grounds most closely resemble Australia’s than anywhere else in the world. The fire that Johnson has set alight seems to have rattled cages everywhere.
Darren Lehmann applauded Chris Rogers for his fielding work ethic, saying that a boundary saved with the South African score at 9/198 was the catalyst that secured the final wicket minutes later.
So how does South Africa curtail such a rampant touring team? Well, for one thing, putting up a fight at Port Elizabeth, the venue for the second test, which begins on Friday. Opportunities were never taken by the home side, and they fell victim to rash shots and being intimidated.
Smith has to fire at the top; Alviro Petersen looked far more awkward than his opening partner. AB de Villiers is the perfect example to follow.
For Australia, the only thing that seems to be whether Shane Watson will play in the second test. Changing a winning mentality would be to the detriment of the visitors.