Jon Holland has bolted into contention for a shock Test recall if he can overcome a finger injury in time for Australia's series opener…
Twelve months to the day since the passing of arguably Australia’s greatest cricket scribe, Ed Cowan has played an innings for the ages and tributed it to his old mentor, Peter Roebuck.
This was a historical day for Australia, in so many ways.
Up the other end, the Captain became the first man since Don Bradman in the 1930s to score three Test double centuries in a year.
But perhaps more important than these personal plaudits was the ground that Australia took off the world’s number one Test nation and the pain it inflicted on supposedly the best seam attack going around.
In a post play interview Cowan described it as “a great moving day for Australia”. There is no doubt of that in relation to the first Test itself.
When Clarke and Cowan came together in the last session of day three, at 3 for 40, it looked as though Australia would be battling to save the Test. Australia ended day four on 4 for 487, with a first innings lead of 37 and 6 wickets in hand.
On this the final day, they should be able to set South Africa a target close to 200 and have the better part of two sessions to try to steal the most unlikely victory.
In the wash up from this Test, perhaps yesterday will be seen as a moving day for Australian cricket in a more macro sense. For the last three or four years we have plateaued as a Test nation.
Despite working our way back to the number two spot in the Test rankings, the last few years have felt a bit like one step forward and two steps back. To use ‘spring’ parlance, it has been hard to pick up a form line.
Going into this series the team looked better balanced than it had for a while, Clarke, Ponting and Hussey bring experience and grit to the middle order and we now have a smorgasbord of good young quicks to pick from. Any combination Starc, Hilfenhaus, Pattinson, Siddle, Cummins and Johnson (injuries allowing) makes for a solid bowling line up, add to that the reliable spin and bounce of Lyon.
The issue for some time has been the top order. In David Warner’s case, it is hard for him, with so much T20 cricket in the calendar to do the cricketing version of a ‘split personality’ and go from ‘teeing-off’ to ‘seeing-off’.
The job of the opener in Test match cricket is primarily to see off the opening bowlers while they utilise the hard new ball. It does not help when the selectors pick another guy who likes to throw the bat at number three, veteran Rob Quiney, rather than give the patient and technically gifted Usman Khawaja another go in the spot that he should own for the next decade.
Ed Cowan, who came into this Test under immense pressure averaging under thirty, showed the fighting spirit that is needed in top order batsmen and that was synonymous with Australian cricket in the Border/Taylor/Waugh era of domination.
In Clarke we have undoubtedly found the right leader. On top of captain’s knocks like he played yesterday, he is tactically astute in a way that Pointing never was.
So when Cowan said it was a great moving day for Australia, I can’t help but think that it might just be the day we turned the corner. If we win this series (and there is still a lot of cricket to play) we will go back to the number one Test ranking.
Yesterday we kept Steyn, Morkel and Philander wicket-less and their bowling coach Allan Donald admitted it was the hardest day South Africa has had in the field for some time.
We probably won’t win this Test but in the battle of cricket’s number one and number two Test nations – we have inflicted a deep psychological blow. Such psychological domination was our stock in trade when we owned that number one spot.