One could be forgiven for doing a double take at reading the scoreboard. After such a resounding victory in Centurion, the Australian batsmen meekly surrendered to the tune of a huge 231 runs at St. George’s Park on day four of the second test.
Dale Steyn (4/55) ripped through an Australian line-up where only Chris Rogers (107), David Warner (66) and extras (21) managed to make it past the double (or even triple) figure marks. After such a show from South Africa in both innings of fluid batting and big runs, it was quite the turnaround on a pitch that resembled something akin to a road.
Simply put, no one ever saw a monumental final session like this.
The rain, and lots of it, was forecast for the final day. It does not, however, excuse such an unexpected collapse where Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle (six runs each) were the highest scoring batsmen after the openers.
South Africa started the rot, piling on 423 in the first innings – albeit at just 2.80 runs an over – including two centuries, to AB de Villiers and JP Duminy. Mitchell Johnson found some life early, then his impact was dulled – and that was the story for the rest of the Australian bowlers.
Put in contrast Australia’s first innings – 246, scored much faster – and only one batsman, David Warner (70) passed the half-century mark. Almost everyone else fell around him cheaply.
Even Graeme Smith was spellbound by the reverse swing masterclass that Steyn delivered at Port Elizabeth.
Forget the fact that Wayne Parnell had to not partake in bowling during the second innings; there was a renewed fire that was not seen at Centurion from the Proteas. The impact was even felt in the first innings; after de Villiers, Duminy really began raising eyebrows of a few Australians.
The left-handers average against Australia is now 51.36; and his innings reminiscent of Perth, six years ago, when South Africa chased down a record 414.
Michael Clarke, on the receiving end of the massive battering, admitted that the new ball period was a key when it came to batting.
“We knew the best time to bat in the second innings was going to be against the new ball. People that don’t know much about the game might think that when you are 0-120 you are in contention to win the game. We knew the hardest period would be when the ball got old and you had to start your innings against reverse-swing.”
Fight was the key mantra, and Rogers and Warner got off to a flyer. And then it all went wrong. Hark back to the first innings – and South Africa had similarly done the job – and Warner pulled out the stops there too, with 70. Middle order problems again came to the fore, highlighting the contrast between Centurion and Port Elizabeth.
Knowing the rain could potentially quell the final day, Australia seemingly gave in to the onslaught. Six wins in a row may have also come at a price; the bowlers are also overworked; the first wicketless session since the UK Ashes series last year occurred at Port Elizabeth.
South Africa will take all the momentum to Cape Town this week, while Australia must lick its wounds after failing to excite. The pearlers bowled by Steyn were simply electrifying, while Rogers was defiant in the face of (almost) inevitable defeat.
The third test starts in Cape Town on March 1st.