It was a day that you would say the Proteas took the honors.
Overcast conditions at Newland's and another toss lost gave the Proteas the edge to opt for a bowl first on a track that will likely start to "flatten" out by day 3, earliest. Although Michael Clarke may have stated at the toss that had he won the flip of the coin we'd have still batted, I'm not so sure about that and my understanding is Allan Border felt that way as well.
In any case, while it was a very tough day at the office and a surprisingly decent one for the opposition after such a lengthy layoff from Test cricket, there were some good performances of the day, notably the Skipper's 16th century!
What an innings it was and Michael Clarke has certainly developed a knack to combat unfriendly batting conditions with his complete skill set to lift the side out of a gloomy situation.
The Squad selected was a more predictable side and while in hindsight selecting Trent Copeland over Peter Siddle may have been a more tactical option, we all love Pedro's ambition so with the wicket flattening out by day 4 and 5, he may be the key bowler to extract something from the deck.
1st innings: 8-214
Michael Clarke 107*, Shaun Marsh 44, Mitchell Johnson 20.
Things were very tough out there with the ball swinging around with a breeze blowing across the ground and of course a wicket that had a bit of a tennis ball bounce at times, particularly with Vernon Philander who, on debut, managed to extract some good bounce of the deck with his medium pacers and caused some damage of his own.
Shane Watson was the first to go after being squared up by Dale Steyn off a very sharp delivery (take note Ryan Harris) and Phillip Hughes has unfortunately opened up the Can again for criticism.
I was further informed that Phillip had a tough time in the warm-up game for the runs he managed but I can say that he was peppered a fair bit with some short deliveries and wasn't given too many chances outside of off, which is where he capitalised in 2009.
I'll keep supporting him but despite how much I enjoyed his century in Sri Lanka and how good it was to see him stick one up to the critics (on unreasonable terms), the fact is the consistency is lacking with the opening duo between Watto and Hughesy.
Usman Khawaja is in the waiting line and his recent form suggests he's eager to go. Running laps around the ground is certainly not his current target.
Phillip has another chance but I'm not sure how many a new selector will be giving him around the corner.
I'm not showing a lack of support, just stating a very valid point unfortunately.
Ricky Ponting struck a six early on which was glorious to watch and just an excellent execution of the pull shot. Sadly he was struck LBW for just 8 runs and it's another frustrating moment where our maestro departs after looking good (in tough conditions) but just not having any luck go his way. Granted it was an LBW that was a goner but the cricket Gods don't seem to be working for Punter at the moment.
With none of our batsmen, with the exception of Michael Clarke and Shaun Marsh, not even getting double figures it demonstrates that the toss was crucial but also how badly it's could affect things as my gut feeling is even though our bowlers can deliver outstanding performances when the chips are down, our batsmen need to give them something to work with to execute their collective skills.
In 2009 we were bowled out on Day 1 at Newland's and this was nearly a similar scenario.
Just twenty runs to each guys name would have made the world of difference in a situation that really isn't looking good. Mitchell Johnson had the right idea to chip in on a ground where he scored his maiden Test century, but got out to a forgettable shot.
Michael Hussey has been getting us out of jail for some time so he had to get a low score at some stage. It happened on a day where we could have used some Huss magic.
Brad Haddin must be feeling very low on confidence at the moment and his batting is definitely deflating this. We'll have to see how Hads handles his Keeper duties which is the core and obvious reason why he is in the side. With Tim Paine eyeing his comeback and Matt Wade getting some good performances in for the Bushrangers, we need Hads to try find a way to bring us the goods before it's too late.
Again, with a new selector on board, he won't be looking at who is capable of what if they come right. He will probably be looking at who is delivering the performances and who is likely to be around a while to provide that as an Australian cricketer. It's tough on Hads because of the time he spent waiting to get the job full time but we can only continue to support him as best as we can until such a time comes for a change in Keeper.
The epic things to note:
Shaun Marsh was given the test promotion to come in at number 3, bringing Ricky Ponting's career at the spot to a closure.
Furthermore is Shaun looked mighty solid out there and further demonstrated his ability to remain patient, cautious and put away the bad balls. He was plumb LBW but he'd built a very good innings on a tricky track. On a good surface I am eager to see how the bloke grafts out an innings!
His 44 was very worthy to take note of if you are an Indian supporter.
The highlight was seeing Michael Clarke score his 16th Test century, a consecutive century at that too and most importantly he led from the front when the team and the supporters needed him to step up.
It has to rate as one of his finest! He's played some crackers but this one had seriously testing aspects to it and never mind the way in which he handled the Proteas variation out there, but how about the fluency with his shots?
Absolutely brilliant stuff and done in just 108 deliveries.
He brought up his 5000th run in the innings which is a great milestone but there was such an important underlying aspect for this innings with regards to what it symbolised for him as Captain of the Baggy Greens.
He played his defensive shots positively and assertively. He flashed confidently at wider deliveries, used his crease excellently and when he played an attacking stroke, he did so expressively leaving all of us with little doubt he is the leader of the Baggy Greens. He has hit 17 boundaries. This is the innings that I feel was a testament for him.
Well done Skipper on your 16th century, 5000th run.
Stats versus South Africa in South Africa(prior to this series):
3 matches/ 141 runs/ HS 68/ Average 28.20
It's not a good situation at 8-214 but if Michael Clarke and Pedro Siddle can somehow manage to graft out another 75 runs, along with Nathan Lyon who is definitely capable of lower order resistance, we could find a way back into this game.
With more cloud over and a breeze expected tomorrow with the wicket still a bit tacky, don't forget about Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson still have to bowl!
Wagon-wheel for Michael Clarke's innings thus far.
The boys working hard on tour! For Trent Copeland's tour blog, click here.
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