Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Sydney, 1st day January 2, 2006

Kallis - The man for a cloudy day

Jacques Kallis brightens up a gloomy day © Getty Images

The ball swung for the second Test in a row and the play was riveting. Modern batsmen have grown accustomed to planting their front feet and breezing away at four an over, but significant movement in the air and off the pitch during this series has eased the imbalance and provided satisfying contests.

Rain held up the start, providing timely juice for a pitch baked in steaming conditions over the weekend, and from the moment Glenn McGrath opened the innings with three balls curving away and three ducking in South Africa knew a day of old-fashioned graft was required. Mark Taylor and Kepler Wessels, the former blockading openers, would have scanned the surface without fear but the current exponents often feel green when the pitch is tinged with a similar colour. It's also when they are seen at their best, fighting the conditions as well as themselves.

Matthew Hayden shelved his slaughtering at Melbourne and forced himself to take giant strides, covering the danger of variable bounce in a week that strangely provided regular swing, and scored the most runs of the match. Similar ploys were used today as the South Africans countered the seam with exaggerated movements and justified Graeme Smith's decision to bat.

With a defensive overall outlook, the South Africans were perfect for the situation and ended the first day on top following a sturdy performance controlled by Jacques Kallis. Kallis is the right man for any cloudy day and while the feet of his top-order team-mates looked a little sticky, he stood firmly with 80 from 181 balls, an innings broken by a couple of powerful lofted boundaries off the legspinners and a break late in the day for repairs on his injured elbow.

Kallis' bat can attract barnacles, but today he played an innings Taylor and Wessels would have been pleased with and his team-mates deserved to reward his concentration and courage. Smith was glowing under the floodlights as his batsmen returned to the dressing-room with 3 for 230; Kallis and Ashwell Prince looked understandably drained. Prince, who escaped the early challenge from Shane Warne to post a controlled half-century, and Kallis pushed their side ahead with an unbroken 144-run partnership as the pitch lost its venom and Australia called on a bowling roster that included Michael Hussey's rare medium pace.

Australia were at their best when McGrath and Brett Lee staged a swinging opening that made a reduction in over-appealing impossible. There were more shouts in the first session than during a school reunion as chances were offered and decent inquiries for an lbw and a caught behind turned down. The batsmen played and missed frequently while the bowlers mixed smiles with groans.

However, three wickets by the first break were not quite enough and Australia will be disappointed at releasing such an encouraging position. Andrew Symonds provided useful back-up but the Australians will also wonder whether picking Nathan Bracken, the swing bowling 12th man, for one day in conditions perfect for him is better than having Stuart MacGill for a couple of dusty ones later in the match. The answer will lie in the final result after only the fast men picked up the wickets today. With the conditions in their corner for a change, the bowlers missed their chance to capitalise.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo