The reality of the morning after
Day two of the Adelaide Test was also the morning after. Not that giddy, crazy, uproarious stuff of the first day, when the impossible seemed to take place on a regular basis.
Instead, the Oval witnessed a succession of the events more usually associated with the five-day game: a well-established overnight batsman departing early, a tail failing to wag much, a gritty opening stand, a missed stumping, a run-out, a disputed caught-behind appeal and a tense last hour when the possibility of critical wickets hung heavily in the air without ever quite falling.
All these episodes were fascinating, intriguing and occasionally bracing. But the lack of the extraordinary allowed time for a better appreciation of the frankly ridiculous passages that had begun this match. It was the sort of opening chapter to a Test match that a crowd of 16,512 at the ground, and however many more on television and radio, may never see the like of again.
Australia's unbridled aggression with the bat, personified by David Warner but then refined and perfected by Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey, was stunning. Warner and Clarke in particular will remain in the mind's eye for how heedless they were to the match scenario that confronted them. Early wickets most often force the construction of a grafting recovery, but theirs was a counterattack so complete and so rapid as to have been stolen from the pages of Adam Gilchrist's autobiography.
One of Gilchrist's most memorable ripostes to a dire top-order showing was a union with Matthew Hayden in Mumbai in 2001, when on a sharply spinning pitch they flayed India for 197 runs in 32 overs. Warner and Clarke piled up 155 in 24 overs, albeit on a surface far more friendly. Where Mumbai was outstripped was the fact that Warner's dismissal allowed Clarke to form another partnership with Hussey that was equally destructive in terms of impact but far more prolific for runs, 272 in little more than half a day's play.
A scoreboard reading 5 for 482 at the close was one of those sights that require photographic evidence to prove beyond doubt that it actually took place. The board and its remarkable set of numbers was still there in the morning, providing a reminder that the first day had indeed been a brief and glorious reality as opposed to a feverish, hypnotic dream.
Upon resumption, there was still the fleeting thought of another day for the dreamers, particularly those who pondered Clarke's proximity to the world record Test score. That bubble was to be quickly burst with the delivery that Morne Morkel speared between the bat and pad of Clarke in the day's fifth over, a moment that offered consolation for South Africa but also a reminder of how much mental and physical energy Clarke had expended in playing such a collector's item of an innings the afternoon before.
Clarke's wicket, and the others that soon followed in its wake, served as a reminder not only of how this South African bowling attack is far from the helpless ensemble they had appeared at times on day one, but also of exactly how courageous Australia's batsmen had been to keep attacking when risking further wickets. By the time the hosts were bowled out for 550, their innings bore a strong resemblance to an exaggerated Coke bottle, thin at either end but bulging to great effect in the middle. As had been the case last summer, Australia's batting order in this series is not a fully functioning unit, rather a collective owing much to the strength provided in the middle by Clarke and Hussey.
Where those batsmen had reached such outlandish heights, their team-mates in Australia's bowling attack found the going predictably harder. Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen knuckled down, ignoring the scoreboard and their own fatigue to ensure there would be no rush of wickets with the new ball, which was perhaps pitched a little too short, too often by Ben Hilfenhaus and James Pattinson. Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon were economical enough, but it said much that the first clear chance of the innings was created by Clarke's part-time spin, the first wicket for a bowler falling to Warner's speculative leg breaks.
South Africa were kept quiet throughout, Smith compiling a diligent and determined century but never getting away from Australia's bowlers in the manner Warner, Clarke and Hussey had streaked out of reach of South Africa's. His elusion of a concerted appeal by James Pattinson for a catch at the wicket exposed the apparent ambiguities of Hot-Spot technology, something Ricky Ponting seemed keen to underline after Richard Kettleborough's original verdict was overturned.
The visitors' defiance could be admired, but not necessarily loved - they did what they had to do, but dared not do more than that. Runs ticked by at a steady 3 per over, and not a single six was hit. Without the services of Jacques Kallis until later in the innings, there was less room for aggression than usual, and in Smith's missed stumping and the successful stumping of Hashim Amla were sound warnings of what may happen should a batsman be lured out.
At the end Smith tucked away a single and Jacques Rudolph played out the final over from Lyon with due deference. Players on both sides were greeted with appreciation, but something less than wonder and rapture. The unthinkable had happened yesterday. Today was more a day for the thinkable.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here