Second Test, Day 2
Australia: 243 all out (Warner 63, Rabada 5/96, Ngidi 3/51, Philander 2/25)
South Africa: 263/7 (De Villiers 74*, Elgar 57, Amla 56, Marsh 2/26)
The narrative for this enticing series between South Africa and Australia is quickly developing a pattern: absorbing action out in the middle with an equal dose of drama off it.
Today at St George’s Park was no different. ICC match referee Jeff Crowe is certainly earning his salary on this tour. Having had to issue fines earlier in the week, Crowe was now called on to charge South Africa Kagiso Rabada and most bizarrely walk out on to the field to lecture the umpires about not taking themselves too seriously.
Ultimately, it was left to AB de Villiers to restore some sanity with a sparkling innings whose true value could escalate as the match runs its course.
South Africa certainly required their maestro batsman to deliver on Saturday. Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla had both struck half-centuries earlier in the day, but its pedestrian nature still left the Proteas in a vulnerable position.
The pair were joined in the morning after Kagiso Rabada made yet another valuable contribution coming in as the night-watchman. They were only separated in the late afternoon after a grinding 88-run partnership that used up all of 46.4 overs.
It was a necessary evil considering South Africa’s ugly habit of losing wickets in clusters throughout the summer, but when Mitchell Starc destroyed Amla’s stumps with a vicious in-swinging yorker and Elgar edged Josh Hazlewood behind to Tim Paine a few balls later, the hosts were suddenly 144/5.
Although it took a bit longer than at Kingsmead, but the ball was reversing quietly nicely now. Mitchell Marsh joined the act when he trapped both Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and Theunis de Bruyn lbw from the Park Drive End.
From a position of strength, South Africa had slumped to 183/6 and suddenly in danger of not passing Australia’s 243 all out.
But that is when the De Villiers show started. Australia’s captain Steve Smith had indicated prior to this second Test that they had special plans to contain De Villiers after his undefeated 71 in the first innings at Kingsmead.
They came to nought though with De Villiers looking a class apart from any batsmen on either team yesterday afternoon. The swiftness of feet movement and assuredness of shot selection were all there with De Villiers either sweeping with authority or lifting the ball over the slips with disdain.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon tried to stem the tide when he clean bowled Quinton de Kock with a rip-snorting off-spinner that took out the South African wicket-keeper’s off-stump, but De Villiers was unperturbed.
He continued to play as if the surface didn’t matter, or in fact that Australia were now attacking with the new ball.
De Villiers’s brilliance allowed South Africa to move past the visitors’ total by the time stumps were drawn and move their lead to 20 runs already. The length of De Villiers’s stay at the crease on Sunday morning will most likely be the decisive factor in terms of the advantage South African ultimately finish with.