Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day December 1, 2012

South Africa 'go hard' for Perth glory

Australia will have to be prepared to chase anything on a pitch where South Africa look increasingly at home

The joke is that Perth is a far-flung province of South Africa, given the number of immigrants who settled here, but Australia will not find it funny that their opposition seemed so at home at the WACA. South Africa's bowlers exploited conditions in the morning as though they had played there all their lives. Then Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla made it look like a completely different track in the evening to give South Africa a massive advantage with plenty of time to make it count.

To think that three days of the Test match remain and South Africa already have a second-innings lead of close to 300 runs is one way of explaining their dominance. To have watched Smith and Amla's stand of complete fluency is another.

Remarkably, there was no stage when the two looked like they were rushing, even though Matthew Wade said it felt like they were playing in "one-day mode". Their scoring rate was a shade under seven runs an over but there was no slogging. Rather there was an effortless acceleration, best encapsulated by Smith walking his across his stumps to dispatch everyone from John Hastings to Mitchell Johnson through his favoured on side.

Without looking at a wagon wheel it would be difficult to believe that Smith actually scored more runs on the off side this time. His cut shot and push through the covers made rare appearances as the Australia attack veered from bowling too straight to him to offering too much width. Amla had assistance too. In every over, there was a ball he could pull or drive and he did.

As much as Smith and Amla showed positive intent, Australia's attack lacked discipline, particularly in length. While South Africa's trio of quicks created pressure, Australia's were unable to dry up any run-scoring avenue even in the field, where they left gaps on both sides of the wicket for Smith and Amla to capitalise on.

Vernon Philander explained that the South Africa game plan was not specifically to "go hard" at the bowling but when they saw that they could, they cashed in. He said another "200 or 250" runs would leave South Africa feeling confident of a victory. If that were the case, they would probably begin bowling again late on the third day but so much time remains in this match that even if South Africa bat for five more sessions, they will still have four to bowl Australia out.

Time does not discriminate, though and the same amount that applies to South Africa will also be available to Australia. It could mean they would have as much as two days to chase a target at the same venue where South Africa successfully went out in search of 414 runs four years ago, so they may not mind what that target was.

Wade was realistic in his assessment that Australia would have to be up for anything. "Three hundred, 400, 500, whatever they post we have to chase to win the match and the series," he said. What seems certain is that there will be a result to decide where the Test mace will spend the next few months. It is also clear that the way that result goes hinges on South Africa's bowlers.

If they bowl like they did on the second morning, South Africa will be confident of remaining No. 1. Philander admitted that it finally felt as though the trio of pacemen clicked again, after underwhelming performances in Brisbane and Adelaide (which Philander missed through injury). "There was a bit more bounce, batsmen were playing off the back foot and it was something similar to what we have back home. There's also a little bit of movement and as soon as Steyn and I have movement, we can exploit it."

Steyn, in particular, was at his aggressive best, with 'white-line fever' coursing through his veins. Philander said it was "special" to share the ball with him.

They will have the chance to do that again once more in this match. Philander hopes they will connect as well as they did in the first innings, while Wade would like to see them tire. He said Australia's batsmen will want to have the three quicks returning for many spells to exhaust them. The match will end in a battle of firepower versus fortitude, which is how any contest for to decide the best in the world should be played out.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 2, 2012, 10:54 GMT

    Hey RJ I suppose most Saffers would be felling slightly smug right now but would you blame them. As for being lucky at being 0-0 in the series where's the luck?

    Lucky test cricket isn't played over 6 days? Lucky a debutant could bat for a day and a bit? Lucky the aussies couldn't bowl line and length for 1.5 days? Lucky DRS reversed two clangers?

    Wheels and round abouts mate, the moment you start bemoaning some one elses good fortune compared to your own that is when you loose your edge.

    It's not over yet though so I'm not feeling to smug yet. I'd like to see the Aussies take this deep into the fith day for the sake of test cricket. I wouldn't mine the few extra grey hairs because I am loving every minute of this series.

  • gurinder on December 2, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    come on south africa , beat aussies inside 4 days, i can see australia folding inside 200 again, cupboards seem bare for australia

  • Rohan on December 2, 2012, 7:37 GMT

    To be honest this is a fairly indicative result according to where the teams stand, despite Australia doing most of the running in the series til now. And no team in history has been able to change all it's fast bowlers from one match to the next and do well. This is the result against a good team with world class batsmen. I still think SA have a very unbalanced team though, effectively 8 batsmen and just 3 bowlers, despite Petersons 3 wickets, and that's not going to win too many test matches. They're murdering us in this test, but very lucky to still even be in the series, remember that smug Saffers!!

  • Casper on December 2, 2012, 4:52 GMT

    @Kays789 if philander performed only on under performing test teams you must include Australia and England to both those underperforming cricket playing teams as he cut his teeth against Australia an got 5 fors against both australia and England ... hmmm rather look at the inexperienced bowling line-up Australia got now - i think you needed a siddle in the middle

  • Prashan on December 2, 2012, 4:35 GMT

    South Africa played superbly and Aussies were no doubt badly missing the services of Hilfenhaus and Siddle.

  • Bryn on December 2, 2012, 4:13 GMT

    south africa are perth glory supporters now? strange i didnt think south africans liked soccer. anyway whatever happens in this test is meaningless because the whole match his been built on an incorrect and immensely unfair decision against dave warner and australia whatever happens after that has no creedance (clearwater revival). as an aussie fan i know we have dominated south africa convincingly throughout the series and i take comfort in knowing who the better team is and who the better is going to be for the next 15 years, that goes for you too england. might sound petulant but it remains factual.

  • Basil on December 2, 2012, 3:33 GMT

    Best bowling attack in the world and Vern is a key part of that; smug or not Vern is something special now Aussies will now they playing the best in the world

  • Dale on December 2, 2012, 3:29 GMT

    not to mention that the series south africa went to play england was right off the thrashing they gave australia which was a white wash and england were ranked as the number team in the world so i wouldnt be saying his under achieved ..

  • Simon on December 2, 2012, 2:34 GMT

    Mate, Philander is just telling it how it is. Even implicit in his wording is that he does need a little bit of assistance, and when he doesn't get it (like in Brisbane) he can be a tad toothless. But he has assistance here, and his use of it was superb. Those LBWs against Watson and Ponting were straight out of the Terry Alderman playbook - the sort of thing that Hilfenhaus should be able to do but can't. You have to give Philander and Steyn enormous credit - Cowan and Warner were both dismissed a bit carelessly, but the rest of our top order (and Nathan Lyon) did little wrong: they were removed by high-class bowlers using the available assistance to perfect advantage. Perhaps Morkel's dismissal of Hussey was best of all, because conditions were better for batting, but he was still able to pin Hussey down that end and build pressure until he cracked. And it wasn't like Hussey didn't know it was happening - he wanted to get off strike but couldn't. And then the evening session...

  • Dummy4 on December 1, 2012, 22:34 GMT

    @ Kays789, "Smug". In case you don't believe in stats, just go to hawk-eye, get he wicket keepers view and see for yourself just how accurate he is. How he forces the batsman to play and turning it both ways, meticulous line and length. When you play in the number one team you helped to that rating, and winning an away series, you sound smug to the opposition.

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