Surprises galore: A first Test wrap-up

John Erichsen Roar Guru

By John Erichsen, John Erichsen is a Roar Guru

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    As the Australian cricketers celebrate an imposing victory in the first Test of this highly anticipated series, the time for reflection on the past four days and four balls is upon us.

    Despite some impressive individual performances, the most glaring observation from this Test match was the number of surprises presented to cricket fans. How many were there?

    Enough for consideration of using terms like “plethora” and “inconceivable”, especially for someone familiar with the classics, The Three Amigos and Princess Bride.

    However, one might be reading too much into it, understandably caught up in all the excitement. I mean, not everything that happened could heralded as inconceivable.

    For example, Mitchell Starc getting the ball to dart around wasn’t exactly Columbus discovering a whole new world, complete with a Tim Rice composition playing in the background.

    AB de Villiers looking composed and more at ease than others in his side wasn’t anything new either. Neither was Steve Smith winning the toss while he was already putting his pads on, so keen was he to bat first.

    So clearly, it wasn’t all new territory. However, counting down from five to one:

    Surprise #5: The pitch was slow and spinning
    Keshav Maharaj’s first delivery, in the 11th over of the Test match, turned considerably from the edge of footmarks that were only five overs old. In the lead up to this series, there was plenty of discussion about the pitches and how lively they would or wouldn’t be.

    However, I don’t think too many of us were expecting this. South Africa’s young spinner certainly has had an impressive start to his Test career and, in this match, Maharaj justified all the faith shown in him.

    Did South African cricket forget that Nathan Lyon topped the 2017 Test wicket-taking list and was in career best form? Were they worried about the Australian pace line-up or did the well-known Australian batting struggles against the turning ball play a part in the condition of this Durban pitch?

    Whatever the reason, it had me doubting the colour quality on my Oled for the first few overs.

    Surprise #4: Mitch Marsh topped scorers in a Test inning
    Firstly, please do not mistake this as an anti-Mitch Marsh message. Upon Mitch’s return to the Test unit, he has delivered all that even his critics could ask of him, especially with the bat.

    Mitch Marsh

    (Photo by Philip Brown/Getty Images)

    The surprise here is not that Mitch Marsh made runs, but rather, that he scored more than Steve Smith and David Warner. Smith seems so hungry for runs that he takes it as a personal insult if he isn’t the top scorer in most innings.

    Mitch Marsh knows this all too well. In the Ashes Test in Perth, Mitch batted the lights out making a brilliant 181.

    Did he have the honour of being Australia’s top scorer? No. Steve Smith had to score 239 so that the earth didn’t fall off its axis.

    What about Warner? Well, he loves scoring runs on South African pitches so much that even Darren Lehmann, the Australian coach, predicted a dominating onslaught from the vice-captain.

    No way was Mitch Marsh top scoring in the script. Pure improvisation and everyone just ran with it. Kind of like Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam.

    Surprise #3: South Africa goes missing
    After a promising start in their first innings, South Africa disappeared completely, save for a brilliant lone hand by de Villiers. This was a great shock from a side that prides itself on being competitive for long periods of time.

    I am not sure exactly what happened.

    The cynic in me remembers a certain One Day Cricket World Cup semi-final and a world of panic. That cynic watched the collapse while nodding knowingly, as though I was silly to think anything had really changed.

    Conversely, I realise that many years that have passed, water under the bridge and all that stuff, so the more sensitive and less judgmental me ponders if South Africa simply got the Test schedule a tad mixed up.

    The Test at the Wanderers’ ground is the fourth in this series, not the first. Yet wandering they went.

    Surprise #2: Morkel’s mediocrity
    Having announced his intended retirement before the commencement of the series, I expected Morne Morkel to make a massive impact in this first Test. Rabada was impressive, Philander asked some questions, but Morkel really had a first Test of a final Test series to forget.

    In fact, there is already some speculation that his spot may not be safe and one of the possible changes for Friday’s second Test is the inclusion of Lungisani Ngidi at Morne’s expense.

    Morne Morkel shattered after South Africa's loss to New Zealand in the Cricket World Cup semi final

    He looks a promising young fast bowler and had a very good Test series against India, but it would still be a big call.

    Surprise #1: Graeme Smith’s post-test summary
    I am sure there is very little love lost between former South African captain, Graeme Smith, and the Australian Test team. Perhaps it’s because his hand still hurts after having it broken by a Mitchell Johnson thunderbolt almost a decade ago.

    His heroics of coming out to bat in the second innings were very brave, although not as visually impressive as Rick McCosker’s “Elephant Man” impression in the second innings at the MCG in 1977’s Centenary Test.

    Perhaps it’s because his Test average of 48.26 would have been well over 50 if he had of averaged more than an ordinary 32.58 against Aussie attacks.

    Whatever Smith’s reason, he couldn’t help himself have a whine about the Australian aggression during the match and was quick to interpret that behaviour as going too far and crossing the line. No surprise there. None whatsoever.

    It was his hope for the remainder of the series that South African players would find motivation in the Australian behaviour to stand up and make the series a tough one.

    Forgive me Graeme, but I thought South African players would have had plenty of motivation in beating their old rivals at home in an important series to maintain a period of victory in this great cricketing rivalry.

    Silly me, but I thought walking onto the field representing their strong sporting nation would have been motivation enough. Call me crazy, but I just assumed the South African players were professional and committed to performing their best on cricket biggest stage.

    Apparently, according to Graeme Smith, they mustn’t be and that really does surprise me.

    I wonder what unfathomable gems the second Test will reveal.

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    The Crowd Says (2)

    • Roar Guru

      March 7th 2018 @ 12:40pm
      JamesH said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

      Nice article. You’ve got to love one-eyed commentators! It seems no country is immune to them.

    • March 7th 2018 @ 1:04pm
      Tanmoy Kar said | March 7th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

      Lungi Ngidi should replace Morne Morkel and Hashim Amla should retire for the sake of S.A.

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