Australia in South Africa / News

South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 3rd day

Smith - Australia's batsmen were the difference

Edward Craig in Cape Town

March 18, 2006

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The partnership between Ricky Ponting (above) and Matthew Hayden was the crucial difference between the two teams © Getty Images
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The South Africa captain Graeme Smith pinpointed Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting's partnership in Australia's first innings as the crucial moment in the match. Although South Africa took three wickets to halt Australia's run-chase it was too little, too late, and they fell by seven wickets.

"Both teams bowled well in this game. It was the partnership between Hayden and Ponting that won them the game," Smith told reporters after the match. "Also, Australia held onto some good catches and that puts you under pressure.

"Maybe in the first-innings we played one or two bad shots, but it is one of those wickets where you end up missing out one or two of your strengths. Not only did it seam but it is quite two paced. We were looking for bigger partnerships but throughout the series it is going to be tough to bat in."

He admitted that his side missed the influence of Shaun Pollock who would have relished the seam-friendly conditions, and is looking forward to his return in Durban for the second Test. "Having Polly back will be a huge boost for us; he would have been deadly on this wicket," Smith noted. "We expect him to be fully fit coming into Durban. He'll come back into the team, who he replaces is a question we'll answer when we see the conditions.

Although he conceded that the wicket wasn't what his side had hoped for, he was full of praise for Australia's debutant, Stuart Clark, who took nine wickets in the match:

"As batters, you don't mind a seaming wicket, but it was up-and-down and pretty too paced - and it spun, which makes batting difficult. It was difficult throughout the game," he said. "The whole series is going to be difficult because the wickets do a bit at this time of the year. Both team bowled well and Stuart Clark was terrific on his debut."



Graeme Smith was full of praise for Stuart Clark on his nine-wicket debut © Getty Images
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Meanwhile, Ricky Ponting was understandably pleased with his side's performance in tough conditions and happy to be 1-0 up in the three match series. "It's been a satisfying week for us. We have played good Test match cricket," he said.

"Looking back at the toss, it was a good [one] to lose; I'd have had a bat as well, probably expecting there to be a bit of seam movement but not as much as there was. It was going all over the place this afternoon. It was a game dominated by the ball and by our bowlers - Stuart Clark led the way."

However, he was unimpressed with some of the South African talk before the game, particularly about the pitch.

"Reading between the lines now, some of things they had to say about the wicket leading into the game were all rubbish, about it being a spinning wicket," Ponting said. "When we saw it, it looked like a seamer's wicket. We have certainly handled the conditions a lot better than they have. But we had one big partnership in the game which they didn't and that has probably been the difference."

Clark, though is not assured of his place in the second Test at Durban if conditions are against him: "You have to pick what you think is the best team for the conditions. If it is bare, we'll play two spinners. We'll pick what we think will be the best team."

Ponting identified his team's catching and improved fielding as a key element to the team's success: "We have been working pretty hard at it, but teams can go through patches when you put a lot down; we did in the Ashes and South Africa are probably going through one now," he said. "That was [one] area we addressed after the Ashes that we needed to improve [upon]. Our overall fielding has been really sharp."

Clark is still pinching himself after claiming match figures of nine for 89. "I could not have dreamed it was going to be like this. To get a [single] wicket I'd have been happy, but to get nine, I don't know what to say. They are good players so you need to be on your game," he said.

"It is always hard work bowling no matter who you are playing."

Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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