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December 17, 2008
After all the hype about Dale Steyn leading in to the match it was a slight anti-climax when he failed to take the new ball for the first over of Australia's innings. The veteran Makhaya Ntini was the first man Australia faced and it was the only time in Steyn's past 14 Tests that he had not sent down the initial delivery of the first innings. Perhaps Graeme Smith was wary of the intense pressure Steyn would be under in his maiden Test against the world's No. 1 team. The fans didn't have to wait long for a glimpse of Steyn, who bowled the second over, but his opening delivery brought back memories of Steve Harmison at the Gabba two summers ago. The ball sprayed wide outside Simon Katich's off stump and was taken by a diving Mark Boucher in front of first slip.
Why'd you call wide?
Later in the day, after he had found his rhythm, Steyn was visibly unimpressed when Aleem Dar called wide for a bouncer that flew just over Katich's head. It was a tough assessment that could have gone either way and even Dar appeared confused by his decision when he called over after five legal balls. The players started to reposition for the next over from Paul Harris when Dar remembered the wide, realised his mistake and asked everyone to head back to their original spots so Steyn could bowl his sixth delivery.
Duck, duck, goose?
"I'd be surprised if Ntini gets anywhere near the 140 mark to tell you the truth," Ricky Ponting said on the eve of the Test. He was asked how Australia felt about facing up to three fast men who might clock over 150kph. Certainly Makhaya Ntini isn't as quick as he was in his younger days but Ponting didn't hang around long enough to really find out as he edged his first delivery from Ntini to slip. It was Ponting's second golden duck in a 13-year Test career - the first came when he was stumped off Harbhajan Singh in Chennai in 2000-01. The zeroes continued for Australia when Michael Hussey was taken at slip off Steyn; it was Hussey's third duck in Test cricket and all three have come in 2008.
Thumb Prince forces change
Ntini was not only causing problems for Australia's batsmen, he also created a drama within his own camp when he sent down a delivery in the nets on Tuesday that struck Ashwell Prince on the left thumb. The pain worsened for Prince as the day went on - it was the same spot he had been struck on during the recent Test against Bangladesh - and an x-ray revealed a crack in the bone. When he failed a fitness test on the morning of the match it opened the door for JP Duminy to make his Test debut, and he could get a couple of opportunities with Prince no certainty to be fit for the Boxing Day clash in Melbourne.
Happy selectors all round
Both sides came into the match debating whether to include a spinner or go for four fast men on a WACA pitch expected to be quick and bouncy. In the end each team felt that a slow bowler would add the right balance and before lunch on the first day they had their justification. Paul Harris, the left-armer, was in his second over when he sent down a pearler that drifted in to Michael Clarke and turned viciously past the outside edge. It was a terrific ball that not only made South Africa glad they had included Harris but must also have pleased Australia's offspinner Jason Krejza, who won his spot ahead of Shane Watson.
Pistol whips into new role
Paul Reiffel made his Test debut in Perth in 1991-92 and 17 seasons later he has marked another first at the venue. Reiffel was recently promoted to Australia's international panel of umpires and he took up a seat at the WACA for his initial appointment as the TV official in a Test. It's common for first-class players to make their way into umpiring in many parts of the world but in Australia the list of officials is dominated by men who have not played at high levels. When Reiffel retired from Victoria after 2001-02 he was fast-tracked into umpiring and he has regularly stood in games featuring his former state team-mates. As a Test fast bowler, Reiffel played alongside Ricky Ponting and against Jacques Kallis, two of the on-field protagonists in this Test. His first day on the job began as an easy one with only a couple of simple decisions asked of him.
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