01 March 2014

3rd Test, South Africa versus Australia, day 1

Australia won the toss and decided to bat.

Australian 1st innings: 3/331 from 88.0 overs
David Warner 135, Michael Clarke 92*, Steven Smith 50*

This series has come down to the final Test at 1-1, and it's now on with us in a strong position. The 1st Test saw us dominate the Proteas on the back of Mitchell Johnson's brutal bowling efforts and their lack of preparation to combat us. However, they hit back on a flat batting track at Port Elizabeth. Despite fighting efforts from David Warner and Chris Rogers (107), Dale Steyn produced a beautiful, but deadly, spell of reverse swing bowling to roll us as we saw Durham last year.

South Africa had the momentum, but our never give in, always play for the win attitude was essential taking to the field and winning the toss was the first small victory. The final clash is at Newland's, a lovely ground.

I was at the 47 all out match in 2011 and I am pleased to write that if that were to occur this game it would seem it is likely to happen to South Africa rather than us, but we'll have to see how our bowlers go.

I felt the selection decisions to bring back in Shane Watson over Shaun Marsh, and young gun James Pattinson over Peter Siddle two smart moves. I wrote my view on Shaun Marsh during the last article and if Shane Watson is ready to bowl, use him! As for Siddle, his role when not taking wickets is to build the pressure from his end and he just hasn't been able to do it too effectively this series. As a result, with high dependency on Mitch, and Ryan Harris taking a while to find his stride, it was best to bring in a guy with a touch of extra pace and fresh on energy. Tough to leave out Peter Siddle, but the decision was bold, much to the disappointment of his Newland's fans who always chant, "Siddle is a wanker".

On the back of his century, Chris Rogers took on Dale Steyn and scored 8 runs of his first over. It was a strong statement made and David Warner followed in pursuit.

Rogers has such a tight game plan that it is inevitable that he will find good runs for us in any series, but the second innings continues to be his ideal platform.

David Warner's century was splendid and just a statement of authority out in the middle. He was fined a portion of his match fee due to a statement accusing AB de Villiers of roughing up the ball with his gloves. It's not the first time Davey has made a statement in the media against the teams wishes and slightly over the top, but it seems to be a game risk he is willing to take. It inspires him and fires him up and, as Mark Nicholas put it, it's almost the same tactic a boxer uses before a big fight. It seems to keep working for him.

Did I support David Warner's view before this game? Well, yes, seeing he scored a century, I also like the renegade, and now has a Test run this series with the following stats: 12, 115, 70, 66, 135.

He also has 874 runs for the 2013/14 season at 66.54, leading the charts.

Here's what I put on Facebook regarding his media ordeal: "Davey Warner has come out with the public comments again and has now ruffled the feathers of the easily aggravated (sensitive) South African supporters and support staff. Not sure how/if it has since been taken out of context? 

Granted, I never like the dynamic of accusing players of dodgy tactics (especially ball tampering) but I like the way Davey plays the media and creates a bit of buzz. I often like the renegade in a sportsman.

So whatever, I honestly don't care what he says, or what he says in the future - just get runs to back yourself, which he's been doing. If anything I don't mind if he says some seriously inappropriate things either. I am seriously over robotic sportsmen and corporate folk too scared of upsetting the financial Gods. 

Bring on the 3rd Test. Davey, be ready for some abuse at Newland's brother."

His century itself was loaded with confidence, self-belief and strong stroke play. He has had plenty of luck this series, but this innings was very strong come both his straight and cross bat shots, with his timing being a joy to watch. Even just a basic punch gets backed with almighty power to rocket to the boundary. His balance helped massively too. One also can't forget his running between the wickets during the 65 run opening stand with Rogers. Powerful running, with explosive take offs from the crease eager for more.

Rogers was dismissed for 25, but a very well played 25 which deserved more. His shots through the off side were well composed and compact. I liked the comparison to Justin Langer. Being a former WA player it is even more valid a point raised by Nicholas and Kepler Wessels in commentary. Keen to get some comparative footage.

Come Davey's century, a victory against the South African's and their media, it was quite standalone with Alex Doolan only contributing 20 at number 3 - who did play some very expressive shots though, favouring the pull shot which led to his downfall. A pity as he's always so patient.

Michael Clarke was in his own battle during Davey's moment of monumental success. Even beyond a century, he continued to play at the same pace and I particularly liked his six into the South Eastern stand off the bowling of JP Duminy. He took a liking to Kyle Abbott square on the offside, regularly outplaying Graeme Smith's tactical plans.

Michael Clarke had to face a brutal spell from Morne Morkel, who took over duty from Dale Steyn. Immediately Smith had his men around Clarke and they were ready for the short ball pay off. It went on for a long time, a life time for Clarkey. Mentally it was brutal given he is a bit low on confidence, trying to find his class again and he took a number of hits to the body. He was going for the evasive action tactic and not willing to play the ball, which made him look very uncomfortable. One into the forearm, another to the side of the neck, painful and lethal. It's scary to face that kind of bowling and he looked uncharacteristically out of his depth. Come a return of confidence he will be fine, but it was hard going.

However, despite the new look Morne Morkel's efforts, Clarkey faced up to it and now finds himself 8 runs short of a century, eying another at Newland's Cricket Ground. Well done Michael, that wasn't easy going for him given his lack of confidence against the bowling but he survived. It was hostile backed by the crowd. No doubt this will be a focus come his practice.

Should he get his 27th Test century, it won't be one of his best based on executing his batting skills (a diverse range at that) but rather one based on a fighting spirit to bring himself out of a pit and bring the runs for his team as they fight for a massive win.

Ladies and gentlemen, stay tuned for Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson.

The wicket has been dismissed by a number of South African supporters as flat and lifeless. Judging by their very own Morne Morkel, I disagree that while it is flat, it is not lifeless. There was plenty of bounce in this track and Morkel was quick, menacing, but due to a possible lack of tactic upon execution, was not effective - given his lack of bowling on a good length too.

Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson should take note of this. With Jamo we gain an extra 10km/h in a bowler, and this track could keep these two men well entertained. Ryan Harris seems amped and ready to go, so if he can be accurate it will just help out Mitch and Jamo to double the efforts Morkel displayed. Keep in mind Morkel didn't have Dale Steyn at the other end due to a hammy injury in the 41st over, so it would have affected his output a fair bit.

South Africa also don't have a quality spinner to turn to like we do. Newland's isn't a renowned spinners deck but there is always something to be gained from a good spinner, be it changing the game tempo, directly affecting a players rhythm, or finding enough turn to just keep a batsman concentrating.

Steven Smith has reached fifty, and is having a good series too as he continues to blossom as a batsman series in, series out. He's going well, but he has yet another fantastic opportunity to showcase his turnaround as a cricketer. It seems Smithy is loaded with chances to play significant innings in recent times. Again, I draw a comparison to Steve Waugh. Incredible given how poor Smithy's start was to his career, no thanks to the former Australian selectors.

The plan now will be to reach 400 runs, then 450. It obviously will be the plan. If we can get to this landmark, it will really put the counter-attack into perspective. South Africa still need to have a bat, obviously, but until then I won't get into too many forecasts. Reality is this start is perfect for us to push for a big score (with a few good batsmen to follow) and continually believe we can win this match.

All the best to Michael Clarke tomorrow and well done to Davey Warner. I enjoyed that innings. Up the Baggy Greens.

Verdict: Day 1 comfortably goes to us.

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