South Africa and Australia prove Test cricket isn’t boring

The first Test between South Africa and Australia produced drama no other form of cricket could have

By Matthew Wiggins
graeme smith
Graeme Smith's side were thrashed by eight wickets in the first Test Photo: cormac70, via Flickr

graeme smith

Who said Test cricket was boring? Anyone who saw the first Test between South Africa and Australia cannot think so after the sides took part in one of the most unbelievable matches in the sport’s history this week.

Graeme Smith won the toss in Cape Town and rightly elected to field on a green top pitch that promised to be tough to bat on.

He looked to be justified when Dale Steyn and debutant Vernon Philander made light work of Shane Watson, Phil Hughes and Ricky Ponting to leave the visitors on 40-3.

However, Shaun Marsh, who is batting ahead of Ponting at No3 and Smith’s opposite number, Michael Clarke, rebuilt their side’s total to 143 before Marsh was trapped in front by Steyn for 44.

It was to be a day for Clarke to remember though, as the right hander played the most domineering innings of his career to counter attack the South African bowlers. He scored 50 from just 56 balls and by the time the day was out he had registered his century from just 108 balls faced.

The only down side to the innings was that nobody had been able to stick with him. Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin came and went and Mitchell Johnson played one shot too many when hanging around for his captain would have been the smarter option. By the end of an exciting day Australia were on 214-8. But it was nothing out of the ordinary, the real drama was yet to come.

The second day started with South Africa wrapping up the final wickets before lunch. But not before Clarke had plundered another quick half-century to reach his fourth Test match 150 and Australia had registered 284. From here on in though wickets fell like dominoes and the match twisted and turned in every direction before the close of play.

The South African openers put on 24. Jacques Rudolph, playing his first Test since 2007, departed for 18 and on his way back to the pavilion, must have opened the flood gates as many more batsmen followed him. From 49-2 South Africa were dismissed for 96 as no other batsmen other than Rudolph and Smith made double figures and Watson picked up only his third Test five-for and his second best figures in a Test innings.

But if that was a collapse of considerable note, what was to follow was truly unprecedented. With a lead of 188 Australia took to the crease. After three balls they had lost Watson and after 18 overs they were all out.

What was happening? This wasn’t a Twenty20 international, this was a five-day Test. Yet at 21-9 Australia were one wicket away from registering the lowest team total in Test match history, by five runs.

If Smith hadn’t dropped opener Hughes on 0 they probably would have done. As it was Hughes’ 9, one of the more respectable scores in a total of 47, along with the tail end cavalry of Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon steered Australia past the unwanted record. Philander caused the damage with figures of 5-15 to go with his 3-63 in the first dig, earning him the man of the match award.

With South Africa needing 235 to win and wickets dropping like flies you would have expected the match to have finished that day, there were 17 overs left after all. However, normality resumed as Hashim Amla and Smith guided the hosts safely to the close with the score on 81.

The pair compounded Australia’s misery the following morning by scoring at around seven an over at times on their way to majestic centuries. The eight-wicket win was one of the most extraordinary in Test match history and only the second time in 60 years that a side have won after being dismissed for under 100.

You could not find drama like that in any other form of cricket.

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