JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

What a difference a day can make in this wonderful theatre of Test cricket

Date

Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

View more articles from Greg Baum

Email Greg

On top; Peter Siddle takes A.B. de Villiers' wicket.

On top; Peter Siddle takes A.B. de Villiers' wicket. Photo: Getty Images

One of the mystical peculiarities of Test cricket is each day is played on new terms, discrete in themselves and often vitally different from the preceding day and the days to come. In Test cricket, tomorrow is nearly always a new day. Call it the 100-not-out overnight syndrome.

On Friday at the Adelaide Oval, Australia laboured sweatily for hours, but took only two South African wickets, both accidents. On Saturday, they took 5-13 inside the first hour, gouging a hole in South Africa's batting, and 8-173 in all to restore their position of authority in this match, though it was much diminished again by stumps.

Peter Siddle, luckless on Friday, led the charge with two wickets, including Graeme Smith, South Africa's rock and cornerstone.

On Smith's new day, he again threw himself on the dubious mercy of the Decision Review System, but this time was betrayed; it disclosed a nick. It made Smith's referral a waste. He left, offended. The protocols governing DRS become more inscrutable each day.

Siddle would take no more wickets, but his figures contain a lie. Of the 130 runs he yielded in 30 overs, an anomalous 94 came from boundaries. Firstly, it was edges, thick and thin; a pressing field and glassy outfield made them irretrievable. Later it was hefty blows down the ground from admirable debutant Faf du Plessis, batting with the tail. But it was Siddle's sustained aggression that revitalised Australia and left them with runs to spend, or so it seemed. Merv Hughes used to play the same role for Australia.

Nathan Lyon's brace of wickets seemed only his due; one was Morkel, bowled behind his legs, a dismissal every spinner wants for his collection. He becomes crucial for Sunday.

Du Plessis's day was new in that it was his first as a batsman in Test cricket, after a long and dutiful wait. He left an indelible first impression, as a classicist, but with a twist, literally: when he hit out down the ground, he would rotate his body and follow through in such a way as to leave him in a pose much like the statue of a civic leader in some country town, reaching out towards a vision on the horizon.

Anyway, he and the brave, wincing Jacques Kallis put on 93 for the eighth wicket, runs that seemed merely nuisance value at the time, but by stumps had doubled in worth.

That was largely the doing of burly Rory Kleinveldt, whose introduction to Test cricket this last fortnight has been a wretched business, up to his mid-afternoon duck, but who suddenly took three wickets as Australia's top order succumbed to his bounce and movement.

At dusk, it became a brand new day for Kleinveldt.

For others, sadly, this was Groundhog Day. For the second time in the match, Rob Quiney dabbed off the back foot and, for the second time, was caught not having made a run.

The way he threw and caught his bat, like a baton twirler, told its own tale of resignation. He is a better cricketer than this, but may never get to show it again.

Ricky Ponting arrived and left to warm ovations; sadly, they were only 10 overs apart. Arguably, the flourish that has made him a great batsman undid him now; on a pitch that was beginning to play at odd heights and angles, he went with his usual high back lift at Dale Steyn, but caught up with the ball only in time to play it into his stumps. Noticeably, Michael Clarke played out the day with a shortened back lift. Ponting's place again dangles by a thread.

James Pattinson bowled seven balls, then was seen no more, except in the waiting room of a nearby clinic. This was a day he has already had too many times in his short career, so promising and so ill-starred. Team management spoke evasively of ''side pain'' and ''scans'' on Saturday night, code for more rehabilitation.

Apart from his personal anguish, this poses a twofold problem for Australia. Firstly, Pattinson becomes the missing link as they defend what South Africa must now think will be an attainable fourth innings target. Then the attack must be recast for a deciding Test in Perth a few days later.

Not least of those who must feel that they have been stranded in Punxsutawney was poor Imran Tahir, who again was smeared to all points, but at last claimed a wicket when Ed Cowan popped a catch to cover, only to be sprung by DRS for overstepping by a millimetre or two. His match return stands at 0-212.

Test cricket is replete with these personal dramas, intrinsic to the unfolding of the match, yet incidental to it, too.

Ponting, Quiney, Tahir et al must come with brave faces on Sunday; a Test match hangs in the balance. On a pitch showing agreeable signs of treachery, the odds remain in Australia's favour, but with this caveat: they are one bowler skinny, and South Africa are one batsman plumper than most teams, and that designated hitter is the estimable Kallis, who showed on Saturday one leg is enough. Like his heart and his bat, it is stout. All that can be said for certain about Sunday is it will not be Saturday.

Twitter - @GregBaum

Related Coverage

Clarke the key to victory

Yet again it has come down to Michael Clarke. Time and again the world's most prolific scorer of runs right now has been called upon to lead from the front, in this instance to seal a victory against a top-ranked South Africa side that seemed assured until it was thrown into doubt by an unexpected late collapse on Saturday.

Chappelli backs Punter's spirit

RICKY PONTING received a welcome accolade from former Test skipper Ian Chappell when he declared the besieged batsman possessed characteristics that would have ensured he slotted straight into Chappell's legendary World Series Cricket team in the late 1970s.

Kallis' courage appears in vain

In the pantheon of all-rounders, Jacques Kallis stands above just about all. Forty-four Test hundreds and 280 wickets makes him, in terms of the record books, untouchable. A half-century batting down the order, at the uncustomary position of No.9, may ultimately end up deep in the fine print of his celebrated career, but it should not be overlooked.

Side injury could end Pattinson's summer

YOUNG spearhead James Pattinson has broken down with a serious side strain, and there were grave fears on Saturday night that the injury could end his Test summer.

There's no substitute for heroics now lost from other codes

Graham Chapman's comic pirate Yellowbeard, when told of rumours that he was dead, growled: ''Us Yellowbeards are never more dangerous than when we're dead.'' So it was with two cricket teams brought to their knees by injuries and remorseless conditions.

Subs idea for Shield given a benching

Cricket Australia aborted a move to trial a formal substitutes system in the Sheffield Shield after being told the competition would lose its first-class status if the new rules were introduced. The subs debate is humming along in Adelaide following Jacques Kallis's efforts to bat down the order for South Africa despite a hamstring injury suffered bowling on day one. The Tonk can reveal CA this year discussed introducing a structured replacements code in the Shield but the International Cricket Council's regulations proved the stumbling block, with senior figures made aware that the 120-year-old interstate competition could be demoted in status if the 12th men were systematically allowed to bat and bowl. There was mild controversy this month when Ricky Ponting was allowed to be replaced midway through a Shield game for Tasmania against Victoria, citing hamstring soreness before the first

Related Coverage

Featured advertisers