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South Africa paceman Kagiso Rabada tore the heart out the Australian middle order batting on the opening day of the second Test at Port Elizabeth.
Steve Smith won the toss, but didn’t look at all convinced when he decided to bat on an overcast day with a wicket that had a fair smattering of grass.
His worries were unfounded when openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft put on 98 right on lunch before Bancroft was dismissed for 38.
They had toughed it out in the first hour with Vernon Philander bowling superbly to scrape together only 23 runs, but they cut loose in the second hour to post 75.
That was the first of four very distinct sections that stood out on day one.
The second section was Smith and Shaun Marsh putting on 44 for the fourth wicket before they became the first victims of Rabada’s 5-13 blitz off just 11 deliveries.
Rabada had bowled a lot of rubbish in three spells leading into the carnage that was the third stage.
Smith and Marsh were leg before victims for 24 apiece. Mitchell Marsh was caught behind for four, Pat Cummins’ castle was destroyed first ball, and Mitchell Starc was bowled for eight.
Their collective career averages total 183, but they were back in the shed for a lowly total of 60 with South Africa in control.
But they hadn’t counted on keeper Tim Paine’s rearguard action for the fourth section.
His three partnerships with tailenders Starc (8), Nathan Lyon (17), and Josh Hazlewood (10*) totalled a priceless 73 for Australia to be all out for 243.
There’s no doubt Smith would have had a total of 300-plus in mind, but at one stage it looked as though Australia was going to be dismissed for under 200 until Paine took control.
While Rabada had by far the best figures, it was Philander who was the best South African bowler.
His figures of 2-25 off 11 overs told the story, His control of line and length was superb, and he beat the bat more than any other bowler, but the Australians didn’t bat well enough to nick them.
Warner deserves special praise. Not only did he knuckle down when the wicket was at its most dangerous by scoring just eight off 36 deliveries, he then brought back the real Warner to crack 42 off his next 33.
He looked set for another ton until he copped the ball of the day from strapping 21-year-old paceman Lungi Ngidi.
It cut back to find the gap between bat and pad to clip the top of the off stump – it was a jaffa.
Ngidi’s playing only his third Test. Why he didn’t play in the first Test at Durban after figures of 1-51, 6-39, 1-27, and 1-38 in his first two Tests against India to average 17.22 remains a mystery.
He’s sharp, and we’ll hear a lot more about him in this series. He finished the day with 3-51 off 13.3.
Surprisingly the wicket began spin on day one, but left-arm orthodox Keshav Maharaj went wicketless today after taking nine wickets in Durban.
South Africa will go into day two 204 runs in arrears at 1-39 with Rabada going great guns as the night watchman to be 17 not out with four fours.
The man out was Durban century-maker Aiden Markram who was a Pat Cummins victim.
But Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood must bowl a whole lot better tonight or the Australians could be a couple of hundred behind by stumps on day two.
Then only South Africa can win to level the series.