Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 3rd day December 28, 2005

Pace versus grit

Herschelle Gibbs fought off several balls like this one from Brett Lee © Getty Images

Brett Lee and Herschelle Gibbs shared a gripping exchange that confirmed the bowler as his team's main strike weapon and the batsman as Australia's greatest danger. The Test's most exciting head-to-head occurred after lunch with Gibbs nearing a controlled century and Lee already bobbing after two brilliant deliveries to sprawl South Africa's pair of Jacqueses.

Short, fast and flashing a superhero's smile, Lee charged and Gibbs countered. The speed gun clicked around the mid-140kph range and so did Gibbs' helmet when he was struck above the ear. He was 81 and until then had batted with no fear and only the occasional indulgence. The mood changed swiftly.

Another bouncer followed and Gibbs swayed before thumping a fuller and wider offering to the cover-point boundary. Next ball an inside edge speeding past Adam Gilchrist raced the hearts in the crowd and Gibbs to 89. An over later the battle and ducking resumed. Lee sprinted in with a bumper and Gibbs looked less steady, his legs seemed heavier and his movements to off less pronounced. However, he is like Damien Martyn, happy for his head to guide him rather than his feet.

Any tentativeness was removed by a lofted off-drive for his 15th boundary and a pulled single. The defensive attitude that fulfilled Gibbs through day two and the morning session had been abandoned and his attacking response freshened a slow-burning day. His magnetic battle with Lee was over but a shorter one began with Andrew Symonds, who was cutting and swinging the ball in. Some stayed low and others lifted.

Getting forward on a surface that produced four lbws today was difficult and although Gibbs willed himself to press towards the bowler it was uncertainty that cost him. Symonds hit a spongy spot, Gibbs leaned forward but left some weight on his back foot and the ball jumped to his glove and darted to the stumps. South Africa look to Gibbs as their main strokemaker but on this tour they are desperate for long stays from their top order. With a 234-ball 94 he proved he could shuffle the team plan with his individual instincts, which were stirred most by the threats from Lee.

Dennis Lillee anointed Lee as the pack leader in Perth and he has again provided the most ferocious spells while Glenn McGrath, who bowled 13 maidens and gave up two runs an over, has been reduced to impressive stock. Symonds' blows landed in South Africa's middle but Lee's three victims came at the top. Today's two dismissals were the most spectacular of the game.

Having clattered Kallis on the helmet badge with a bouncer that forced him to turn and step quickly to avoid his stumps, Lee followed with a searing yorker in a stunning one-two. Like Gibbs, Kallis told himself to go towards the ball and he eventually did in a classical defensive pose, but the prospect of another short ball consumed him and he was bowled convincingly.

Returning with the new ball, Lee's opening outswinger to clip Rudolph's off bail after passing through bat and pad was a purist's wicket. The sparkling teeth were on show again and he was so chirpy that he later led a stretching session for the crowd in the rowdy Bay 13 section. Mimicry in these parts is usually saved for Victorians. This summer Lee has been worth copying.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo