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Australia’s batting line-up was yesterday gutted by South African pace dynamo Kagiso Rabada who turned the second Test with a beguiling spell of bowling.
The tourists made a great start on a tricky pitch, reaching 0-98 just prior to lunch, before Rabada ran amok in the second and third sessions.
By only looking at Australia’s scorecard you would get the impression they’d surrendered meekly. But that would do a disservice to South Africa’s bowlers and would also ignore just how difficult were the conditions in which Australia had to bat.
The conditions were ideal for South Africa’s quicks, with a juicy pitch offering generous seam movement and the overcast weather perfect for swing bowling.
The circumstances favoured the bowlers just as much as they did when Australia collapsed for 85 on the first day of the Hobart Test against South Africa 16 months ago. In scrounging their way to 243, thanks to a fine opening stand and a late-order flourish, Australia produced what potentially could be a competitive total.
In a 12-over session before stumps Australia picked up the key wicket of Aiden Markram before South Africa finished the day on 1-39.
Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins both looked dangerous, while spinner Nathan Lyon earned massive turn during the single over he delivered. This gave the impression that, unless the pitch improves for batting significantly tomorrow, it won’t be easy for South Africa to build a sizeable lead.
Earlier, Australian openers David Warner (63) and Cameron Bancroft (38) willed themselves through the new ball spell.
Under-siege opener Warner must have been greatly tempted to take out his anger on the Proteas’ attack and flay them in old-school Warner style. But the new Warner, the one who’s greatly reduced his scoring rate since that Hobart debacle, has become adept at batting within himself.
For the first time in his 73-match Test career, Warner did not hit a single boundary in his first hour at the crease. At the first drinks break he had dawdled to just 9 from 37 balls, with Australia 0-23 after 14 overs.
Having got his eye in Warner upped the ante, cracking 54 from his next 63 balls, including nine boundaries in a 98-run opening stand with Bancroft.
It took a gem of an in-swinger from impressive young quick Lungi Ngidi to dislodge Warner early in the second session. A similarly good piece of swing bowling from Vernon Philander had induced an edge from Bancroft directly before lunch.
In between the wickets of the two openers, Australia lost Usman Khawaja when he nicked off against Philander, continuing the left hander’s wretched run away from home.
Khawaja has now averaged just 13 with the bat in his past six Tests away from home, spanning two matches in Sri Lanka, two in South Africa, and one each in Bangladesh and New Zealand.
With Australia having lost 3-19, captain Steve Smith (25) and in-form middle order batsman Shaun Marsh (24) set about blunting the Proteas attack. They did so for a while before Kagiso Rabada woke from his slumber, having bowled poorly in the first half of the day.
During a sensational spell of reverse swing bowling Rabada trapped Smith and Shaun Marsh LBW, had Mitchell Marsh and Pat Cummins caught behind, and then castled Mitchell Starc to complete a spell of 5-13. At 8-182, Australia had suffered a collapse of 8-84 after their strong opening.
Then wicketkeeper Tim Paine (36) played yet another calm, mature knock and, by placing faith in tail-enders Nathan Lyon (17) and Josh Hazlewood (10 not out), he helped Australia reach a respectable total.
Rabada finished with 5-96 although he is now at serious risk of being banned for the final two Tests because of his send-off of Smith. Due to several previous offences, the South African quick now needs to be given only the minimum one penalty point by the ICC to see him cop a two-match suspension.
Given Australia’s Nathan Lyon received one penalty point for an incident in the first Test which was no worse than Rabada’s send-off, it seems to be a genuine possibility that Rabada could miss the rest of the series.
Such an outcome would be a blow to the Proteas and to the series itself, but would be a relief to the Australian batsmen, who were yesterday on the receiving end of an all-time great spell from Rabada.