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Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Perth, 5th day
Ian Chappell: Australia's vulnerability exposed
December 21, 2008
A magnificent victory for South Africa and the performance has exposed Australia's vulnerability in recent times
 
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"AB de Villiers looked so calm and controlled the whole way through. I don't recall him making a single mistake in the second innings" © Getty Images
 

A match that fluctuated from one team to another for the first four days finally went in one direction. South Africa were too good and pulled off a remarkable victory. It was the second-highest chase in the history of the game on a pitch that's generally noted for favouring the bowlers. It was a magnificent fighting performance led by Graeme Smith with a hundred at the top of the order. The finishing touches were put by a partnership between Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers

Australia could not get anything going at all in the 16 overs with the old ball and Ricky Ponting straightaway took the second new-ball. And once again it was Mitchell Johnson - who took 11 wickets in the match - who got the breakthrough. He got rid of Kallis and the Australians would have been hoping, as has been the case in this match, the fall of one wicket would be followed by another. They perhaps would have felt confident of this happening because the man in was JP Duminy, who is making his Test debut. But what a performance from him. He impressed me with his temperament and his strokeplay and as he went on he got more confident. He had every reason to be confident because the man at the other end - de Villiers - had a fantastic match. He [de Villiers] scored 60-odd in the first innings, he took four catches - two of them absolutely brilliant. And then he made his seventh Test match hundred and he looked so calm and controlled the whole way through. I don't recall him making a mistake in the second innings after having batted well in the first innings. It was a wonderful partnership between this pair.

Eventually it got to the point where Australia did not look like taking a wicket. Ponting tried a lot of things but I was surprised he did not try Andrew Symonds in the first 16 overs before taking the new-ball. The ball swung a little bit and there were two deliveries - one from Brett Lee and one from Peter Siddle - that kept a little bit low when they hit the cracks. I thought that if there is a little bit of swing around then it's usually Symonds who gets it. He wasn't tried and in the end everything else that Ponting tried didn't work. I guess when one bowler takes 11 wickets out of the 14 wickets to fall, you know that there is a bit of problem with the attack.

In the end, South Africa were way too strong. They got home with six wickets in hand and it was a comprehensive performance from them. It will give Australia some food for thought. It looked all the way up until the fourth innings, that it was same old South Africa who still had their mental problems in getting past Australia. But now, certainly as a batting side they have overcome those problems though I think they have still got some way to go with the bowling.

Australia really need to look at how they are going to take 20 wickets in the next match at Melbourne. Brett Lee's figures don't really reflect the way he bowled; I thought he bowled quite well, particularly last night. But the Australians now have been pretty vulnerable for a while; they were very vulnerable before they went to India where India beat them 2-0. But when they lose two Test matches in a row in Perth - first losing to India and now to South Africa - a place where Australia have held the fort for so long then they have got some problems. You are obviously going to have some problems when you lose two champion bowlers in Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, and they are now finding out exactly what the reality is without that pair. It will be interesting to see what the selectors do to try and find these 20 wickets in Melbourne. Their batting doesn't seem to be a problem - I guess when you set a side 400 to chase then you have played reasonably well.

But Australia have some real problems now with South Africa breathing down at their neck at No. 2 and India right behind them at No. 3. There is no way they are the dominant side that they used to be and they are not going to be one for some time yet. It's a matter of whether they can hold those two at bay, and now that South Africa have got a bit of sniff, that would be much harder. It was a magnificent six-wicket victory to South Africa, the second-highest run-chase ever and they did it with aplomb and they will look forward to going to Melbourne. For Australians, it would be a long flight from Perth to Melbourne.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist


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