Cummins’ stunning debut and Ricky hits back
Pat Cummins appeals as he takes his first five-for on debut (AFP)
It seems Ricky Ponting’s obituary was written too soon by many experts. Last night he proved his detractors wrong with a polished and unbeaten 54 at stumps on day four of an engrossing Johannesburg Test.
Needing an imposing 310 runs to win this Test to draw the series, Australia is on the way with 3-142 with Ponting smelling runs and victory.
What twists and turns in the Jo’burg thriller! South Africa collapsed from 4-241 to be dismissed for 266, losing 6-25 on the opening day.
Australia was roaring at 0-174 with both the openers Shane Watson and the much-maligned Phil Hughes scoring four “fat ladies” (88 and 88) between them and “Then there were none”, so to speak, as the visitors lost 10-122 (fast bowler Dale Steyn the major destroyer with 4-64) on day two as the visitors gained a pencil-thin lead of 30.
South Africa appeared on song at 3-229 at stumps on day-3 with Hashim Amla and AB deVilliers playing confidently.
But Australia’s teenage debutant Pat Cummins changed it all in a hurry on day four, bowling with fire and was on a hat-trick. At one stage, South Africa was 6-266 (233 runs ahead) and it seemed Australia will need only about 250 to win.
Wrong! The Test took another turn as tail-ender Dale Steyn used the long handle to hammer 41 runs in 64 balls, smacking two fours and four sixes and his team reached 339.
Cummins had grabbed 6-79 as he reminded me of the debut of another Australian opening bowler, Bob Massie, who had taken 8-84 and 8-53 in the 1972 Ashes Test at Lord’s.
Australia had won the above Lord’s Test by eight wickets but they looked to be plunging to a series disaster as they lost Watson for a duck off the second ball of the innings, clean bowled by speedster Vernon Philander and Australia was one for none.
Worse was to follow as Philander also sent Hughes packing and Australia were 2-19 as they hunted down 310.
Both Usman Khawaja and Ricky Ponting were under pressure, with many predicting this to be Ricky’s farewell Test.
But they faced the chin music from Steyne, Morne Morkel (6’6’’ tall) and Philander with increasing confidence. Khawaja started off with two classy fours and Ponting held a straight confident bat.
Khawaja had a few problems facing the leg-spinner Imran Tahir, especially his googlies. He eventually fell to him after scoring a useful 65 off 110 balls, hitting eight fours and a six. A ball later the play was called off due to bad light.
The old and the new of Australian cricket had added 122 runs for the third wicket. Ponting is unbeaten on 54 off 104 balls, having hit six fours. He started off with two spectacular pulls to proclaim that the master is baaaaack.
The Test is heading for an exciting finish today as Australia, 3-142, needs 168 more runs to win the Test and level the series. Ponting is batting with skipper Michael Clarke with Mike Hussey still to come.
Will Brad Haddin resurrect his Test career by scoring vital runs?
So many questions as we head today to the conclusion of a Test match on a knife’s edge.
Kersi is an author of 13 cricket books including The Waugh Twins, Cricket's Great All-rounders,Six Appeal and Nervous Nineties. He writes regularly for Inside Cricket and other publications. He has recently finished his new book on Cricket's Conflicts and Controversies, with a foreword by Greg Chappell.