Mickey Arthur was concerned in the first Test when the Australian tail rescued the hosts and were the only perceptible chinks in South Africa’s armour – unable to polish off the tail. Now it appears once again the tail rose to the task as Michael Clarke found plenty of company.
Australia were trudging at 267 for six when play ended on the first day at the SCG. But it would have turned into a further disaster had South Africa been able to make amends on that front. As it turned out once again, Mitchell Johnson stood like a thorn in the flesh and alongside Michael Clarke, repaired the Australians to a rather healthy state of affairs.
Their 142 run partnership meant that South Africa, who were looking to restrict Australia to below 350, found themselves staring once more at a huge total from the Australians in their first innings. More followed when the Australian vice captain departed with the score on 379 but only after he scored his tenth half century.
Johnson’s sixty-four was valuable as was Nathan Hauritz’s assertive stay for a gutsy forty-one going nicely with Peter Siddle’s twenty-three. All this rear end fight only meant that the score had swelled to 445 when Australia finally ended their innings half hour before tea, on the days when most things when right for Australia, rather a rare affair in this series.
South Africa had to dig deep for a third successive time in three Tests in order to put the Australians to shame. Having already pocketed the series 2-0, South Africa can afford to treat this as a dead rubber. But with the added motivation of not only humiliating the Australians but also, going number one in the world should they win this match in Sydney, South Africa lack no reason to motivate themselves.
However, it would require another Herculean effort, much like JP Duminy and Dale Steyn’s at the MCG, to really get out of this jail, as the Australians did with Clarke and Johnson. The Australian think tank seemed to have floated a few players as bowlers primarily when they are accomplished batsmen in their own right. While Johnson has proved invaluable to the Australian cause not only with the bowling spearhead job but also, handy with the bat. The same appears the case with Hauritz, who while copping flak for his selection as a spinner, was batting like a top order batsmen as he extended Australia’s first innings.
South Africa’s attempts to once again assert themselves upfront suffered a blow after tea when Graeme Smith suffered another blow, this time to his left hand after a testing over against debutant Doug Bollinger. His early retirement forced Hashim Amla to the crease and the combination with Neil McKenzie nearly brought the scoring rate to a virtually grinding halt.
It was only after McKenzie departed, lbw to Siddle, that Jacques Kallis joined forces in an attempt to thwart Australia’s day getting better and more providential with Smith’s injury more serious than previously assumed. It did provide stability as well as a steady partnership between Kallis and Amla to take South Africa to end the day on 1 for 125, but effectively 2 down given Smith’s extensive injury now.