From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.02 :: Jan. 10, 2009

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CRICKET / MELBOURNE TEST

16: Australia’s number of fate

The match was spun around dizzyingly on day three by a partnership of 180, the third highest ever for the ninth wicket, between Jean-Paul Duminy and Dale Steyn, who between them ripped the long sleeves off Australian cricket’s psyche to reveal the scars and blemishes of an increasingly vulnerable side.

The year 2008 began and ended for the Australian cricket team with the number 16 — At Sydney in January, its 16th successive Test win; at Melbourne in December, its first home series defeat in 16 years. On both occasions, Michael Clarke’s bowling oversaw the denouement.

Shuffling across to Clarke and working him through the leg side for two, Hashim Amla took South Africa to cricketing rapture it had never seen before — a series win down under.

At the end of day two at the MCG, only the clairvoyant or the frivolous answerer of the ‘Who do you think’s gonna win?’ question would have predicted such a finish, for the Proteas were 196 runs behind in the first innings, with just three wickets left.

The match was spun around dizzyingly on day three by a partnership of 180, the third highest ever for the ninth wicket, between Jean-Paul Duminy and Dale Steyn, who between them ripped the long sleeves off Australian cricket’s psyche to reveal the scars and blemishes of an increasingly vulnerable side.

When Steyn joined Duminy after Paul Harris had skied Michael Hussey to Mitchell Johnson running back from mid-on, his batting average was a fraction under 10. The second new ball was minutes away, and Johnson and Peter Siddle must have fancied getting through the last two wickets without too much trouble. Steyn’s courage — let’s see you get behind this one, shall we? — was tested repeatedly in the period just before lunch, Siddle causing him to jump away from the line with one that screamed past his helmet, and the next ball, a short one, striking his left glove. In his next over, Steyn took another blow, this time on his forearm.

Despite the hopping and grimacing being forced on him, he did not hesitate to put his front foot down the wicket when it was pitched up, and drove Johnson thrillingly down the ground either side of lunch: through mid-off off the last ball of the first session, and through mid-on soon after play resumed.

The left-handed Duminy was quietly efficient at the other end, all still head and light feet, pulling Nathan Hauritz when the offie dropped slightly short and standing up to drive Siddle straight. The nervelessness he showed in Perth in the fourth innings was evident here too, perhaps in greater measure in the absence of a recognised batsman at the other end.

On 32, a run less than his highest score at that point, Steyn, right foot unmoving, edged Johnson’s left-arm angle. Ricky Ponting, diving not too far to his right from second slip, dropped it, a chance he’d have taken nine times out of 10, even if he’d been woken up with a bucket of cold water seconds before being offered it. Three overs later, with the Proteas still 74 behind, Steyn gave Australia another chance, slogging Hauritz high in the air above mid-on, where Michael Hussey was defeated by the sun above him, sunglasses notwithstanding, his hands waving about in confusion, nowhere near halting the ball’s earthward drop.

In between that and another dropped catch— Hauritz off his own bowling — Steyn sent three more straight drives past the rope, two off Johnson and one off Siddle to go past 50. Duminy then brought up his hundred, cutting Siddle wide of gully for four, his followthrough seamlessly flowing into a bat-pumping leap and a joyous skip down the pitch, the panning TV cameras rendering the crowd, the flags and the Australian players a motion-blurred swirl in the background. It had been a flawlessly controlled innings, and a dash of flamboyance soon followed: Siddle was lashed through cover, Hussey’s gentle medium was pulled contemptuously to take the total past Australia’s, and then, Johnson was given a stand-and-deliver punch.

When he finally top edged a sweep off Hauritz — Siddle had bowled Steyn earlier for 76 — South Africa was 65 ahead on runs and immeasurably, but comprehensively ahead on psychological points.

Dale Steyn had picked up five wickets in Australia’s first innings, and proceeded to repeat that in the second, abetted in his efforts by Australia’s ill-judged machismo. Matthew Hayden, in a career-threatening form slump, tried to drive him on the up despite the presence of Duminy at short extra cover. Simon Katich, coming off an attractive 50 in the first dig, chased at and nicked a wider-than-wide delivery.

After Michael Hussey had been given out unluckily, a short ball from Morkel looping off his helmet — no bat, no glove — to midwicket, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke, who had made 101 and an unbeaten 88 respectively in the first innings, put on 96. Steyn then struck again in his second over of a new spell, with another wide delivery, short to boot, which Clarke slapped downwards, but not steeply enough to hit turf, to Neil McKenzie at short cover, who took it low to his left. Andrew Symonds came and went in the same over, edging a ball that held its line to Jacques Kallis at second slip.

And so it continued, Ponting playing beautifully at one end, driving down the ground and unleashing his trademark front-foot pulls, while his teammates paraded their recklessness at the other. Mitchell Johnson hung around with Ponting to take Australia’s score past 200, and its lead above 150.

On 99, with his second century of the match in sight, Ponting succumbed to the short cover trap, his checked followthrough indicating that Morkel hadn’t quite come on to his bat as expected. As always, he walked off with jaw set defiant, eyes narrowed. Having scored 200 runs in the match, the Australian skipper did not deserve to be on the losing side.

But the puzzling nature of his recent on-field decisions continued during South Africa’s chase; Brett Lee, who hadn’t bowled for the majority of South Africa’s first innings with a foot injury was given the new ball, and not Johnson. And as in Perth, Graeme Smith set the pace of the chase — the target this time just 183 — with some truly outstanding strokeplay, most memorably his almost dismissive late cuts off Lee. Neil McKenzie, whom commentators reckoned was playing for his place, was resolute, making a dogged half century, his one moment of good fortune coming late in the fourth day, Lee bowling him off a no-ball.

THE SCORES

Second Test, Melbourne Cricket Ground, December 26 to 30, 2008. Result: South Africa won by nine wickets.

Australia — 1st innings: M. L. Hayden c Duminy b Ntini 8; S. M. Katich b Steyn 54; R. T. Ponting c Amla b Harris 101; M. E. K. Hussey c Boucher b Steyn 0; M. J. Clarke (not out) 88; A. Symonds c Kallis b Morkel 27; B. J. Haddin c Smith b Ntini 40; B. Lee c Kallis b Steyn 21; M. G. Johnson b Steyn 0; N. M. Hauritz c Smith b Steyn 12; P. M. Siddle c De Villiers b Kallis 19; Extras (b 5, lb 12, nb 7) 24; Total 394.

Fall of wickets: 1-21, 2-128, 3-143, 4-184, 5-223, 6-277, 7-322, 8-326, 9-352.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 29-6-87-5; Ntini 27-7-108-2; Kallis 18.4-4-55-1; Morkel 22-3-89-1; Harris 17-3-38-1.

South Africa —1st innings: G. C. Smith c Haddin b Siddle 62; N. D. McKenzie b Siddle 0; H. M. Amla c Symonds b Johnson 19; J. H. Kallis c Haddin b Hauritz 26; A. B. de Villiers b Siddle 7; J. P. Duminy c Siddle b Hauritz 166; M. V. Boucher c Hussey b Hauritz 3; M. Morkel b Johnson 21; P. L. Harris c Johnson b Hussey 39; D. W. Steyn b Siddle 76; M. Ntini (not out) 2; Extras (b 5, lb 13, nb 15, pen 5) 38; Total 459.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-39, 3-102, 4-126, 5-132, 6-141, 7-184, 8-251, 9-431.

Australia bowling: Lee 13-2-68-0; Siddle 34-9-81-4; Johnson 39-6-127-2; Hauritz 43-13-98-3; Clarke 8-0-26-0; Hussey 5-0-22-1; Symonds 11-3-14-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: M. L. Hayden c Duminy b Steyn 23; S. M. Katich c Boucher b Steyn 15; R. T. Ponting c Smith b Morkel 99; M. E. K. Hussey c Amla b Morkel 2; M. J. Clarke c McKenzie b Steyn 29; A. Symonds c Kallis b Steyn 0; B. J. Haddin c Kallis b Ntini 10; B. Lee b Kallis 8; M. G. Johnson (not out) 43; N. M. Hauritz b Kallis 3; P. M. Siddle c Boucher b Steyn 6; Extras (b 1, lb 3, nb 5) 9; Total 247.

Fall of wickets: 1-37, 2-40, 3-49, 4-145, 5-145, 6-165, 7-180, 8-212, 9-231.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 20.2-3-67-5; Ntini 14-1-26-1; Morkel 15-2-46-2; Harris 21-1-47-0; Kallis 14-1-57-2.

South Africa — 2nd innings: G. C. Smith lbw b Hauritz 75; N. D. McKenzie (not out) 59; H. M. Amla (not out) 30; Extras (lb 9, w 2, nb 8) 19; Total (for one wkt.) 183.

Fall of wicket: 121.

Australia bowling: Lee 10-0-49-0; Siddle 14-5-34-0; Johnson 11-1-36-0; Hauritz 10-0-41-1; Clarke 3-0-14-0.

A Special Correspondent



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