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December 18, 2008
The most severe scars do not heal quickly and Australia's dominance of South Africa's batsmen over the past decade gave Ricky Ponting hope leading into this series that the old wounds could be reopened. For much of the second day in Perth it looked like the damage was being mended but Mitchell Johnson's brutal late spell of 5 for 2 will add to the hurt.
His efforts meant South Africa crashed from a strong position at 3 for 234 to a severely weakened one of 8 for 243 at stumps. They trail by 132 with two wickets in hand and Johnson's 33 minutes of mayhem undid much of the good work done by Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, all of whom entered the match with significantly lower Test averages against Australia than their overall marks.
"It was frustrating," Kallis said. "At 230 for 3 we were in a commanding position but that's what happens when you play against the best side in the world. You've got to be on top of your game all the time. We've got some hard work ahead of us. We've been in positions like this before and come out of it.
"It was a world-class spell and these things do happen. Hopefully we can have a couple of those throughout the series as well. We certainly don't see the game as down and out. We'll come back from it."
Smith looked impressively determined until he played on to Johnson for 48, de Villiers was generally fluent in his 63 and Kallis fought off a form slump to post 63. The 47 from Hashim Amla, a man unencumbered by any past meetings with Australia at international level, was the most attractive innings of the lot. None of the men went on to hurt Australia badly but Kallis said there was no hangover of past struggles against the world's No. 1 team.
"We're a different side now, a lot of experience and a couple of young guys," Kallis said. "You lose games of cricket throughout your career and you move on. You certainly don't think about them all the time. We've moved on."
Still, the collapse was particularly annoying for a team that has chased Australia for so long. If they could pull of a 3-0 victory in Australia, South Africa would jump past their hosts to become the No. 1 Test team in the world. Johnson's heroics have not made that task impossible but they have left the visitors with an uphill battle.
On a day that finished on such a downer for South Africa it would be easy to overlook the fact that they could draw several positives from their efforts earlier in the day. Perhaps the most pleasing thing was the innings of Kallis, who made his second half-century since the tour of India in April.
He survived a close call early when he inside-edged a dangerous Jason Krejza offspinner that flew past the stumps. It was Kallis' fifth ball and after he saw off the threat of Krejza, who was pumped after turning one between Amla's bat and pad, he settled into the accumulation mode that has been so typically Kallis over the past decade but has deserted him this year.
"I've worked hard with Duncan Fletcher and our coach Mickey Arthur over the last couple of months and felt really good over the last month or two," Kallis said. "It's nice to start with a few runs up front on the tour, it makes life a little bit easier. But there's a lot of work left ahead, 60s don't win you games. All those batters know we've got to get some big hundreds."
The initial task is to bat for as long as possible on the third day and reduce Australia's lead. To do that they will need to forget about the destruction caused by Johnson, who has a rare chance to finish with nine wickets in a Test innings. Johnson is banking on the late collapse weighing on the minds of the South Africans even after a good night's sleep.
"Hopefully mentally that gets into their head a bit and they start thinking about it a bit more," Johnson said. "Obviously there's been a lot of talk up about their pace attack and how strong their batsmen are and hopefully we've taken them down a notch."
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