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February 28, 2009
A dazzling century from AB de Villiers - his eighth, in his 50th Test - entertained the faithful on Fanatical Fans Day, but it was Australia that continued to dominate the opening Test at the Wanderers. Having bowled South Africa out for just 220, they decided not to enforce the follow-on, and had added a further 51 for the loss of Simon Katich before bad light ended play with 30.3 overs still to be bowled in the day.
Katich was flummoxed by a nasty delivery from Morne Morkel that he could only nick behind, but with Phillip Hughes playing some classy cuts and drives interspersed with moments of acute discomfort against the short ball, the lead swelled before the light became too poor to continue. South Africa could have had him just before the tea break when Morkel got him to fend one behind off the glove. With the umpire unsure, Graeme Smith decided not to go for the referral.
South Africa started the day poorly and never really recovered. The key wickets were those of Neil McKenzie and JP Duminy. McKenzie's 125-ball vigil fetched him just 36, but he had managed to glue together an indifferent top-order performance. Peter Siddle angled one in to strike him low on the pad and Steve Bucknor had no doubt at all. McKenzie reckoned he might have got an inside-edge, but TV replays suggested nothing of the sort.
That ended a 44-run partnership, and reunited two of the heroes of the Perth victory that was the springboard for South African success in Australia. An appeal for a catch down the leg side off Duminy couldn't be referred because the appropriate replay couldn't be found, and the Australian mood got worse when Ricky Ponting put down a chance to his right at second slip after Duminy edged an away-going delivery from Mitchell Johnson.
It had been hard going for South Africa, with Siddle generating lively pace and Ben Hilfenhaus giving them nothing whatsoever to hit. When de Villiers struck gorgeous off and cover drives from successive Hilfenhaus deliveries, it seemed that the shackles might be broken, but it proved to be the cruellest of false dawns.
Duminy had repeatedly been targeted with the short ball, and when Johnson directed one at the body, the fend only found Brad Haddin's gloves down the leg side. Moments later, the controversy. A beautiful delivery angled across Mark Boucher and squared him up completely. Billy Bowden's finger went up almost as soon as the keeper and slips did, but Boucher was convinced he hadn't hit it.
Another referral, and yet more disappointment for South Africa. With the images inconclusive, Asad Rauf, the third umpire, had no option but to uphold Bowden's decision. Off trudged Boucher, leaving de Villiers with sole responsibility for resurrecting the innings. He got to his 50 from 122 balls, and then said hello to Marcus North with a superb heave over midwicket, but it was all going awry at the other end.
Morkel decided to stand and deliver against Siddle, and the top-edge was easily taken by the bowler himself and when Paul Harris was given out leg before to North despite the ball striking his toe outside the line, the follow-on was imminent. The Australian lead would have been even healthier but for another fielding lapse. Siddle induced a nick from de Villiers, then on 64, and Haddin dived across in front of first slip and spilled it.
Steyn was peppered with bouncers, and when one was fended off awkwardly, Marcus North couldn't back-peddle quickly enough from first slip to take the catch. De Villiers continued to work the ball around and swung North to the midwicket boundary to move into the 90s. Andrew McDonald was perhaps unlucky not to have him leg before for 92, but the third umpire didn't see enough to reverse Bowden's decision after Australia opted for a referral.
Steyn eventually edged McDonald to first slip, but an emphatic pull for four off Hilfenhaus took de Villiers to a richly deserved century. Just in time too, because Ntini didn't last very long. The series may only have been three days old, but suddenly, all the talk of South Africa and the No.1 ranking was looking a little premature.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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