South Africa take small steps on road to parity
South Africa's weary fielders were greeted by almost complete silence after the first day in Adelaide. Having conceded only 27 fewer than the most runs scored by a team in one day, there was not much to say. The bowlers did not need to be told they had done wrong.
"We knew we needed to step up, otherwise we would be staring at 700 and then we would have been in big, big trouble," Morne Morkel said after the second day's play. "The team management didn't say much to us. It was almost as though the time for talking was over. We knew we had to come back and be strong."
After Australia scored 5 for 482 on day one, South Africa's coach Gary Kirsten had said his men were guilty of bowling too short, and Morkel seemed to take the most notice. Being the tallest of the quicks, Morkel can find it difficult to adjust to a fuller length but he did so and was rewarded with the wicket of Michael Clarke. Morkel pitched it up and the middle stump was uprooted after Clarke missed.
Morkel did not abandon the short ball completely either, but used it more selectively and to better effect, especially against Australia's tail. He peppered James Pattinson with it and Ben Hilfenhaus was dismissed top edging an attempted hook to give Morkel his fifth wicket. South Africa took 5 for 68 this morning to dismiss Australia for 550.
While the improvement from Morkel was obvious, the same cannot be said of Imran Tahir. If his expenses were overwhelming yesterday, Tahir became bankrupt today as he continued to toss it up and pay.
Tahir's Test career was due to take off in this match. Instead, it is now in the balance and Morkel, who suffered the same fate in the past, could relate. "I feel so sorry for Imran because he has worked really hard," Morkel said. "His big haul is just around the corner and we know he will deliver something special soon."
Before anything extraordinary can happen for South Africa with the ball, they need feats with the bat. A 138-run opening stand and Graeme Smith's century have kept them in the match, but the visitors know they have to do much more.
Morkel said the first target was reaching an even keel, and that was evident in South Africa's approach. Their scoring-rate was less than 3.50 runs per over. When compared to Australia's 5.12 on a pitch that remained flat, it is obvious South Africa were cautious.
Morkel said the approach would stay that way until they found steady ground. "We're not even going to look at the scoreboard; we're just going to bat. We know that there is a lot of time in this Test match and it's important for us to build big partnerships."
For someone like Jacques Rudolph, that could be an advantage. Rudolph has yet to play a defining innings since making his comeback and is under scrutiny for failing to produce under pressure. His only century in the last year was made after the top order had already laid a platform. This could be Rudolph's opportunity to prove he belongs.
"We've also got guys like AB [de Villiers] and Faf [du Plessis] coming in who can rotate strike," Morkel said. Jacques Kallis is also due to bat. He will have to wait until 92 overs are bowled or five wickets have fallen because of time spent off the field, but he is fit enough to play.
With Adelaide Tests known for going five days Michael Hussey said they were "not won in the first two days but they can be lost then." Two days are done, but South Africa will know it hasn't been lost yet.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent