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It's not over, but we may well wish it was

Date

Malcolm Knox

Determined ... Rob Quiney has at least looked the part of a Test cricketer.

Determined ... Rob Quiney has at least looked the part of a Test cricketer. Photo: AP

The wish for a five-Test series against South Africa might have been a trifle over-optimistic. Unless Australia can arrest the Proteas' dominance, three Tests will be more than enough, thanks; another two would be as welcome as Greg Ritchie stepping up to the podium after dinner.

Sometimes mistakes and obstacles can limit a team's ascendancy. For most of Sunday, they served to accentuate it. Already stripped of a day and a player, South Africa batted with little urgency, going collectively into what might be called Jacques-mode, meandering along in a contented little bubble, apparently unaware of their surroundings. By the end of play, the gap in experience and confidence between the teams had done much to nullify this, and the Proteas have the advantage. But it came almost in spite of themselves.

Australia's improved bowling, a blustery wind and helpful conditions did some of the work, but South Africa's loss of Hashim Amla told a story. The Australian pacemen had started well, bowling a fuller length and exploiting some lateral movement, and were unlucky not to find a wicket. James Pattinson's outswing repeatedly turned Kallis inside-out and had an important effect on the mood of the morning, convincing Kallis that batting was going to be tougher.

Fortunes shifted when Amla, struck on the pad by Peter Siddle, was the victim of not one iffy decision but two. Asad Rauf erred in giving him out to a ball passing over leg stump, and then Kallis affirmed it by not suggesting Amla ask for a referral. Perhaps Kallis was not paying attention; perhaps he was hoping to save the referrals for himself. Needless to say, he won't be a leading applicant for the umpiring panel post-retirement.

Kallis, so fluent on Friday, was lost in his own world on Sunday. Many questions have been asked about the gap between his statistical record and his reputation. Why is he not exalted like Sobers, or even Botham? His batting on Sunday reaffirmed why. As so often, he chugged along at his own pace. Changes in the match left him unaffected. On Friday, when he had all the time in the world, he breezed along quite beautifully. On Sunday, as time began to run short, he seized up and had a sedative effect on his partners. It is unfair to be critical of a man who scores 147. But the reputations of the great cricketers are made not on their statistics, rather on their competitive impact and ability to seize control of a match. This has always been why Kallis is not rated in the same class as Sobers, Botham and Miller, and it remains so.

By the time Australia batted, it seemed not to matter anyway. South Africa's confidence in their bowlers provided a cover and perhaps a reason for their dilatory batting. Vernon Philander went past the edge more in his first over than the Australian new-ball attack had done in an hour. Dale Steyn was a pleasure to watch for everyone but his opponents, and removed a manifestly edgy David Warner.

Rob Quiney has at least looked the part of a Test cricketer, taking an impressive catch, bowling tidily and batting like a man determined to stomp all over his nerves with vigorous strokeplay. There would be a fine line - a metre or two up or down or side to side - between hooking a sweet six off Morne Morkel and being caught on the rope. Quiney's luck fell on the wrong side of that line. But what a nice nine it was! Is it completely insane to find more to enjoy in Quiney's nine than Kallis's 44th Test century? Very likely. But Quiney did appear comfortable, even if it was purely an act of will. His challenge now is to keep believing.

He and his teammates would have learnt something on those lines from the bright partnership in the last hour between Ed Cowan and Michael Clarke. It is an unusual day when the dominant team loses its way and the underdog shows all the zest and attack, but that is what happened. Cowan, who always seems to be batting for his career, played as if liberated from care. He has never played more attractively on the Test stage, and he chose the moment of maximum pressure to do so. Clarke had the more important task of reversing the sense of inevitability that had descended on the game. To be frank, the Test match had been disappointing until then, as always when it is too one-sided. But the last session, an invigorating contest between bat and ball, was easily the best so far and would have given Australia hopes of making South Africa regret their timidity.

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