Australia fight, but South Africa still in control

  • Sports, Published on: Monday 14th November 16 - 8:45pm

On the first day, this Test was on some sort of stimulant. On the second day, it swallowed a sedative. And on the third day, it took a mood-stabiliser, as a degree normality resumed. There was neither the chaos of Saturday's 15 wickets, nor the dreariness of Sunday's wash-out, but rather something in between: seven wickets, a couple of rain delays, a Quinton de Kock century, and a fightback of sorts from Australia's batsmen. But still South Africa remained in control.

The situation at stumps was this: Australia had reached 2 for 121 in their second innings, with Usman Khawaja on 56 and Steven Smith on 18. David Warner had made 45 and Joe Burns a duck, and each would consider themselves unfortunate in their modes of dismissal. South Africa's fast men asked searching questions of Australia's top-order batsmen, who at last had a few answers. But they were still a long way from climbing out of the hole they dug on day one.

At the close of play Australia still needed 120 more runs to make South Africa bat again. That will be their first goal on day four. Only then can they consider building a target, and thus have any hope of salvaging a positive result from the Test. And although South Africa showed hints of frustration late on day three, as Vernon Philander convinced Faf du Plessis to chance a couple of fruitless reviews, there remained plenty in the pitch for Philander and his colleagues.

After South Africa had been dismissed for 326, with a lead of 241 runs, Australia's second innings started miserably as Burns fell for a duck in the first over when he tickled an attempted leg-glance off a wide Kyle Abbott delivery through to de Kock. It creates a precarious position for Burns, who was dropped in Sri Lanka, recalled for this Test to replace the injured Shaun Marsh, and will fly out of Hobart with 1 and 0 to his name.

Warner and Khawaja were watchful during a 79-run partnership, though they were often tested by Philander, Abbott and Kagiso Rabada. Balls seamed and swung, whizzed past edges or narrowly missed the stumps. But for 21 overs the pair survived, even when Warner's edge off Abbott flew towards third slip, where Dean Elgar ducked under the flying ball, perhaps having lost sight of it, to the astonishment of the rest of the cordon.

Abbott eventually had his man when Warner was tucked up by a shortish delivery at his ribs, and tried to work it behind square on the leg side. The ball bounced off Warner's hip and then ricocheted off his elbow and back into the stumps. But if Warner felt he was unlucky, Abbott had at least had reward for South Africa's plan to tuck Warner up in that region.

Khawaja, who was particularly strong through the cover and point regions, brought up his half-century from his 91st delivery and for the first time in the match, an Australian had reason to raise his bat. There had been a nervous moment early in Khawaja's innings when Warner pushed to point and took off for a single, and Khawaja gave up on making his ground as Temba Bavuma threw - and missed.

Earlier, Josh Hazlewood had completed the second six-wicket haul of his Test career as South Africa were bowled out for 326 shortly after lunch. De Kock and Bavuma were the key batsmen on the third day, compiling a 144-run sixth-wicket stand that added to Australia's frustration after the entire second day was lost to Hobart's rain.

South Africa started the morning five down and added a further 117 runs to their total in the first session for the loss only of de Kock. And even that took until the fourth-last over before lunch, when on 104 de Kock played a tired-looking drive against Hazlewood and missed a ball that moved back in, and was bowled.

Already de Kock had done more than enough damage. His fifth consecutive Test innings of fifty or more placed him in elite company: only Hashim Amla, Alan Melville, Hansie Cronje and Jacques Kallis (three times) among South Africans had achieved that feat before. He brought up his century from his 139th delivery with a single worked through square leg, and he was strong through the leg side right throughout his innings.

De Kock's poise during this series has been notable, as has Bavuma's patience and ability to halt any momentum Australia's bowlers might have thought they were getting. Here, Bavuma occupied the crease for 204 deliveries, more than the 197 balls that comprised Australia's entire first innings. Bavuma was calm at the crease and struck eight fours on his way to 74, before extra bounce and a leading edge to the off side belatedly gave Joe Mennie his maiden Test wicket.

Once Bavuma departed the end came relatively quickly. Hazlewood had Keshav Maharaj bowled for 1, Abbott lbw for 3, and then finished the innings with Philander caught behind for 32. South Africa had been dismissed for 326, a total that might not hint at domination of the match. But the story of this game was Australia's 85 on the first day, and an enormous task remained ahead of them to undo the damage caused by that collapse.

Australia 85 and 2 for 121 (Khawaja 56*) trail South Africa 326 (De Kock 104, Bavuma 74, Hazlewood 6-89, Starc 3-79) by 120 runs