BOXING DAY TEST CRICKET: Australia vs SA: Proteas top order fails again, but late partnership keeps game alive

BOXING DAY TEST CRICKET: Australia vs SA: Proteas top order fails again, but late partnership keeps game alive

Thousands of spectators streamed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) for the beginning of the second Test between South Africa and Australia on Boxing Day. Many were sporting zinc and a floppy hat in tribute to one of the greatest bowlers of all-time – Melbourne’s own Shane Warne, who passed away earlier this year.

And in a performance Warne of which would have been proud, the Australian bowling attack ripped through the Proteas top order, before a late partnership brought South Africa back into the game.

As it happened

Having dominated the first Test at the Gabba to take a 1-0 lead in the series, Australia named an unchanged starting 11. Scott Boland retained his place at his home ground after Josh Hazlewood declared he wasn’t at 100% yet after missing the first Test due to a side strain, while opening batter David Warner was picked for his 100th Test cap.

The Proteas made one change, with Theunis de Bruyn chosen ahead of Rassie van der Dussen, who struggled in the first Test.

Australian captain Pat Cummins won the toss for the second match in succession and sent the Proteas into bat in front of 64,876 fans at the MCG. Much had been said of South Africa’s flimsy batting lineup, and when openers Dean Elgar and Sarel Erwee strode into the middle of the Australian cauldron, it was time to step up.

The Shane Warne Stand as Australian players observe a tribute to Shane Warne during Day 1 of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and South Africa at Melbourne Cricket Ground on 26 December 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo: Darrian Traynor / Getty Images)

A broken record

The Proteas made a shaky start, as captain Elgar was dropped by Cummins off his own bowling in the fourth over, while Erwee survived two LBW appeals an over later.

After some early scares, the openers knuckled down – seeing off the first 10 overs for 28 runs. However, in the next over Erwee (18) was gone after nicking one to Usman Khawaja at slip off the bowling of Boland.

In the 17th over Elgar was given a second lifeline as another caught and bowled chance went down – this time off the bowling of Nathan Lyon. Thanks to some early luck, the Proteas captain (25*) brought up 5,000 Test runs after smacking Boland for four, becoming just the eighth South African to do so.

De Bruyn, meanwhile, got off to a good start, hitting two fine boundaries early on. However, the 30-year-old got a top edge while trying to pull a short ball from Cameron Green and was caught by Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey for 12.

And just eight balls before lunch, with South Africa sitting at a decent 58 for two, disaster struck.

Having struggled in the over against Mitchell Starc, Elgar (26) tipped the ball to mid-off and went for a quick single, but his luck finally ran out, as a direct hit from Marnus Labuschagne at the non-striker’s end left him short by some distance.

It appeared to be a rush of blood from the skipper, especially with lunch just minutes away and two balls remaining in the over, and it marked the first time he was run out in Test cricket.

And on the next ball, Temba Bavuma (1) was gone after nicking Starc’s final delivery to Carey to leave the Proteas shell-shocked at 58 for four.

Cummins had faced criticism for his decision to bowl on a wicket which seemed more favourable for the batters, but heading into lunch it appeared it had paid off after the Proteas top order had failed once again.

Marco Jansen of South Africa bats during Day 1 of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and South Africa at Melbourne Cricket Ground. (Photo: Quinn Rooney / Getty Images)

Fighting back

Khaya Zondo (5) was gone soon after lunch, with Labuschagne taking a stunning catch off the bowling of Starc. Sitting at 67 for five, with the Proteas top five all dismissed, the game was becoming a formality.

However, Kyle Verreynne and Marco Jansen had other ideas.

Facing a steaming Australian attack, the pair began to put on a fight, taking a few blows but playing some cracking shots in the process to bring up the 100 for South Africa.

There was a crucial moment just two balls from tea as Jansen, on 38, had a simple chance put down by Usman Khawaja at square leg off the bowling of Cummins.

The Proteas went into tea at a vastly improved 144 for five, with Jansen and Verreynne adding 77 of those to turn the match into a contest.

And after tea, the fight continued.

Cameron Green of Australia celebrates the wicket of Marco Jansen of South Africa during Day 1 of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and South Africa. (Photo: Darrian Traynor / Getty Images)

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Jansen brought up a maiden test half-century in the 57th over after lofting Lyon down the ground for four. There was a half-chance for a running catch and Starc got his fingertips to it, but he appeared to dislocate his finger in the process.

The Aussie left the field immediately afterwards and did not bowl for the remainder of the innings. Starc has since gone for scans, and it is unclear whether he will be able to bowl in the second innings.

Verreynne brought up his second 50 soon afterwards, taking the Proteas tally to 171 for five. But after negotiating 36 overs and putting on 113 runs, the partnership was broken when Verreynne (52) edged one to Steve Smith at slip off the bowling of Green.

Late collapse

As has become routine with the Proteas batting, when one wicket falls, a cluster soon follows. And on Boxing Day, it was no different.

Jansen (59) was gone just eight balls later after edging a Green delivery to Carey behind the stumps. And the hard work soon unravelled.

The Australian bowlers cleaned up the final three wickets for just seven runs, dismissing South Africa for 189. Despite the valiant efforts of Jansen and Verreynne, the disastrous start coupled with the late collapse marked another disappointing day out for the Proteas batters.

Green, 23, starred for Australia with five wickets in the innings.

Kyle Verreynne of South Africa bats during Day 1 of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and South Africa. (Photo: Darrian Traynor / Getty Images)

Piling the pressure on

In the familiar position of having to bail the South African batters out of jail to turn the match into a contest, the Proteas bowlers got off to a loose start, with an out-of-form Warner scoring some quick runs.

However, Kagiso Rabada found his length and got the breakthrough in the seventh over after Khawaja (1) edged one to Verreynne behind the stumps to leave Australia 21 for one.

Labuschagne (5*) and Warner (32*) were able to navigate the remaining four overs of the day with no issues, the latter displaying some much-needed form.

Australia ended the day looking comfortable at 45 for one, trailing the Proteas first innings total by 144 runs.

Day reflections

“I think what myself and Marco [Jansen] managed to do was just get through those first 20-odd balls. I think that’s where we probably fell short in the previous partnerships, was just that initial period. A day one Test wicket is always going to be tough when you come in and unfortunately most of the batters didn’t really manage to get past that,” said Verreynne after the day’s play.

The Proteas score of 189 all-out marked the seventh consecutive innings the team have failed to reach 200.

“I think today is probably a bit harder to accept than the previous six innings. If we look back at those games, at least from our point of view, there were a lot of good balls, a lot of good bowling,” Verreynne said.

“We sort of stuck to our game plans and unfortunately the bowling was able to undo us. But I felt like today was probably the first time in the last couple of games that we have had more soft dismissals than not, and I think that’s the disappointing thing.”

After last week’s pitch at the Gabba was given a “below-average” rating by the ICC, Verreynne said the pitch at the MCG is a big improvement.

“Obviously it looks a lot better, there’s not as much grass. It didn’t seem like there was as much seam movement out there today, but you never know. I think there were already some balls that started turning today so it might not be the seamers that come into play but Kesh [Maharaj] might play a big role. We’ll have to wait and see but judging from today it definitely seems like a better wicket to bat on.”

Ultimately, after another batting failure, the Proteas bowlers will once again have it all to do to turn the match into a contest.

“We’ve still got that belief, and we’ve just got to back our bowlers now to do their job and hopefully we can back them up in the second innings.” DM


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