An annihilation. Not just of mind, but body too. Australia lead this Test series 1-0, but psychologically that lead may as well be 10-0.
South Africa were put to the sword in this match. They won only the first session on the first day. Thereafter they copped a beating, a massive one.
And yesterday along with the humiliation, came physical pain. Hashim Amla was hit on the grill, Vernon Philander on his right hand and Ryan McLaren copped a brutal blow to the back of the head off a 148.2km/h bouncer from Mitchell Johnson. His ear bled, and his teammates – bar AB de Villiers – must have hurt too. There are still two more Tests and more of Johnson to come.
“There’s no doubt that he was the difference in this game,” said Smith. “He bowled superb spells. He’s obviously in form, he’s hot at the moment and we need to find a way to curb that and put him under pressure. Conditions certainly suited his style of bowling, and he was able to extract every bit of life and uncertainty out of that wicket, which in turn put us under an immense amount of pressure.”
South Africa, said Smith, were outplayed for most of the Test, although the decision to bowl first had looked the right one when Australia were 100/4 in their first innings. Smith was undecided as to what to do on the first day and, in hindsight would have made a different decision.
“I made the decision the team felt was best. I don’t think we’ve ever seen the wicket here play like it did in this game.”
Michael Clarke said it was a good toss to lose on what was a “nasty wicket, to be honest”.
“I’d like to say (the win) is a lot to do with the Australian team’s performance. South Africa are a world-class team, there’s no doubt about it,” said Clarke. “Conditions certainly played a big factor. You saw me declare after two-and-a-half overs. That certainly wasn’t the plan when we walked out to bat, but I’d seen enough in that wicket in two-and-a-half overs to think that it could be quite dangerous to bat on..
“They’re a class team. It happens,” said Clarke when asked about South Africa losing. “We all lose games. It’s about how you bounce back. When you’re winning, it’s about running with the momentum for as long as you can. Port Elizabeth is going to be a really tough Test match for both teams. We want to get back to being the number one team in the world. I think we’ve earned a lot of respect from the people of South Africa with the way we played.”
Smith said South Africa needed to “front up and man up” after the defeat. There were “no excuses” as they had been outplayed in every department.
“A loss is a loss. It’s very, very disappointing at this stage. Good reflection is always important,” said Smith. “We’re moving to a different part of the country and new conditions, and need to be able to adapt to that. This side has a lot of good references to fall back on. There’s enough confidence there to help us in the next game.”
Whatever plans the South Africans had after Johnson smashed them in the first innings never seemed to materialise. Alviro Petersen was all at sea – trying to cover the bouncer, his feet were stuck on the crease his bat followed the ball angled across him from Johnson, the edge flew to wicket-keeper Brad Haddin.
Alex Doolan, on debut and following in the footsteps of another Tasmanian, David Boon, who made shortleg his own, took two phenomenal catches in that spot. Both Smith and JP Duminy middled the ball, but Doolan’s reactions were superb. The first one came straight at him, but for the Duminy dismissal he had to shift his hands to the left and juggle the ball before holding it.
Steve Smith held a scorcher at cover to dismiss South Africa’s best player in this match, De Villiers, to give Johnson his fifth wicket.
Smith’s decision to field first upon winning the toss, was patently wrong. The South African captain put far too much stock in what had gone on at this ground – a venue where South Africa had suffered defeat just once (and that match was given away) – in the past, and not what he saw in front of him. With the pitch breaking up and the bounce uneven, Faf Du Plessis and Robin Peterson were undone by balls that shot through low. In this Test, only De Villiers looked comfortable against Johnson, the rest of the South Africans were decidedly shaky.
Johnson is very much in their heads and it has affected all areas of their game, as we witnessed in that desperately poor middle session on Friday. There are four days to go before the start of the second Test in Port Elizabeth. Repairing the psychological damage must be the priority for the next few days.
South Africa now know exactly where they stand with this Australian side and unfortunately, that’s a long, long way behind them. - Weekend Argus