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February 20, 2009
Australia's first day of cricket on their tour of South Africa didn't so much answer questions as raise more of them. Their first-choice spinner Bryce McGain was belted, their backup fast bowler Ben Hilfenhaus was the most dangerous of the fast men and there was no real chance for either Andrew McDonald or Marcus North to gain an advantage in the battle for the No. 6 spot.
Ricky Ponting chose to field on a flat pitch but even he must have been surprised by the lack of penetration from his bowlers. Imraan Khan's fifth first-class century created the early problems before the wicketkeeper Heino Kuhn, who had been so out of form that he was recently dropped by the Titans, batted his way into touch with an unbeaten 95.
At the close, the South African Board President's XI had reached 393 for 5 with Kuhn and David Wiese (44 not out) at the crease and Australia will be hoping that whenever their batsmen get an opportunity they enjoy it as much as the locals. Khan's 100 from 111 balls was fluent and he drove a series of sweetly timed boundaries down the ground when the fast bowlers overpitched.
He also took a liking to McGain, who was punished for dropping uncharacteristically short and was also struck down the ground with ease. McGain finished his first day of bowling for Australia with the unflattering figures of 2 for 126 from 19 overs and he may have had a glimpse of what Jason Krejza felt in the warm-up game ahead of the Test series in India.
With Nathan Hauritz rested - along with Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke, who has battled back soreness - it was the perfect opportunity for McGain to confirm his place in the side for next week's first Test in Johannesburg. Things began well when he had Alviro Petersen caught at midwicket in his first over but there was little joy for the rest of the day.
Kuhn and Vaughn van Jaarsveld both used their feet to McGain and slammed him for sixes down the ground and his only other success came when Gulam Bodi was adjudged caught behind for 48. Bodi was clearly unhappy with the decision but McGain was thrilled; he had a second wicket to go alongside the 18 fours and four sixes that were struck off his bowling as he struggled to find much drift and turn on an unhelpful surface.
The fast bowlers didn't have much more to celebrate, although Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle were impressive and collected a wicket each. Hilfenhaus entered the game as the fourth choice behind Siddle, Mitchell Johnson and Doug Bollinger, but his ability to swing the ball and create opportunities will force the selectors to consider him for the first Test.
He should have had the centurion Khan caught at first slip for 9 but North, playing his first match for the senior team, put down the simple chance. Hilfenhaus did manage to remove the other opener Blake Snijman, who was caught behind off a superb outswinger, and he moved the ball in to the left-hander Khan and drew a string of inside-edges before Siddle reaped the reward.
Siddle had Khan caught at mid-on and Australia hoped that, with the score at 192 for 3, it might be a turning point. They were especially optimistic when McDonald's first over brought the wicket of van Jaarsveld, who drove to cover and was well caught by the diving Phillip Hughes. But then came a 107-run stand between Bodi and Kuhn, who continued to attack McGain and added further pain for the Australians.
Neither Johnson nor Bollinger picked up a wicket - though Bollinger should have had an early one when Snijman hooked to fine leg and was misjudged by Hilfenhaus - and the day ended with the Australians pleased that they were playing in front of a couple of hundred locals in Potchefstroom rather than thousands in Johannesburg. They have two more days to answer the questions that remain hanging over an inexperienced squad.
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