South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 2nd day November 10, 2011

South Africa confident after stirring fightback

The contest at Newlands has swung from tense to one-sided to competitive, and now stands on the cusp of an epic finish

It is not turning into the five-day thriller that these teams are capable of but the first Test between South Africa and Australia is still poised for a close finish. With the two middle innings of the contest playing out in bizarre fashion and their combined totals amounting to less than Michael Clarke's score in one innings, the contest has swung from tense to one-sided to competitive, and now stands on the cusp of an epic finish.

"We have to work our backsides off tomorrow," Michael Clarke, Australia captain said at the end of the second day. "In my mind, if we can bowl well tomorrow morning we have enough runs on the board to win this Test match but I don't hide away from the fact that, that batting performance was not good enough."

Jacques Rudolph, South Africa's comeback kid, had an equal response. "Graeme [Smith] made the point clear to us that we have to come here tomorrow with very good attitudes," he said. "We want to try and put on a good performance. We've chased targets very well against Australia recently."

With 155 runs needed and nine wickets in hand, South Africa appear the favourites, but in a match that has produced batting displays of the standard of a primary school competition, anything is possible. After a decent first innings of 284 from Australia, the next two efforts suggested that the Newlands pitch had turned into a snake-pit, a minefield, or worse. In reality, all that happened was that it had quickened up, according to Rudolph.

South Africa were undone by wicket-to-wicket, length bowling, while Australia succumbed to swing and seam, leaving the cricketing world wondering if the ICC will slap Cape Town's jewel of a stadium with a warning, if not a ban. Clarke quickly absolved the surface of any blame and said the weather had had more of an impact than his team bargained for.

With clouds covering the Cape Town sky, there was more movement on offer than normally seen here. Usually, Newlands' matches are played in sultry summer, January or later, when the heat can bake the pitch into a strip that favours batting. This time though, the pitch eased out only in the fleeting moments when the golden rays peeped out. Clarke hopes that the gloomy grey will persist into the third day.

"Hopefully it is overcast in the morning because you would have seen the difference when the sun was out this afternoon compared to when it was overcast throughout South Africa's first innings," he said.

Clarke acknowledged that the shining sun did not have an effect on everyone and that his team had played a selection of "disgraceful" shots that consigned them to the fourth lowest total in history. "The sun was out when we were batting, so we can't blame the wicket. All we can do is accept the reality of what happened, learn from it and get your head around what we've got tomorrow. We've got a great opportunity to win another Test match tomorrow morning."

South Africa have assessed the situation in exactly the same way. Knowing that disciplined batting will give them a Test victory, they plan to approach the task in a conservative fashion, after their erratic first-innings effort - "a combination of poor shot selection and then being too tentative at times," as Rudolph described it.

Rudolph said "length bowling" would be the difference on this pitch, because anything too short, as Morne Morkel bowled in Australia's first innings, could be punished. He said the outcome of this match, while having a significant effect on the series, would also play a key role in deciding who takes the upper hand into the next Test.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Girik on November 11, 2011, 8:21 GMT

    @donda, if South Africa wins it won't be a slap in the face for bowlers. Vernon Philander will still be the most likely person to get Man of the Match award. Even if SA chase this they won because of bowling Aus out for 47. If the pitch demons go away (whether real or just psychological) a successful fourth innings chase by South Africa is nothing to crow about and doesn't signal the death of bowling in the game of cricket.

  • Rob on November 11, 2011, 8:16 GMT

    An amazing test match so far, shot selection has at times been poor. However I do feel a bowler friendly pitch makes for a better test, for too long tests have been batsmen friendly, no wonder so many modern batsmen have averages over 50.

  • Dummy4 on November 11, 2011, 8:04 GMT

    Really the South African bowlers bowled much beeter then the Aussies, It was only the spell from Watson that was fantastic, so I cant see who else could do it for them. All the SA quicks bowled like they could do it!!!!

  • Amol on November 11, 2011, 7:50 GMT

    What has SA been 'chokers' in a multi-nation ODI tournament really got to do with their strong-always position in the Test arena ? I really wonder... But then I know SA are 'chokers' in those ODI tourneys because they are expected to win those series. ENG are no chokers like SA because the former aren't expected to win anyway. But then again one should always expect the 'unexpected' in the comments' section. SA most probably will win this Test and prove that the one who had demons in it, wasn't the pitch but the batsman's mind.

  • Dummy4 on November 11, 2011, 7:38 GMT

    Donda : Even if South Africa win , isnt it a victory for their bowlers for bowling out Aus for 47 ???

  • Karthick on November 11, 2011, 6:51 GMT

    I wonder how many times a team scoring less than 100 in a test match has won it too! also the paradox that two of the top sides in cricket today produce an exciting game playing poor cricket.

  • Ian on November 11, 2011, 5:17 GMT

    This match is neither good nor bad for test cricket. Sure, no-one wants matches which are routinely over in 3 days, but then it is good to have some variety. A few matches that don't go the distance are hardly bad for test cricket, come on! The enjoyment is in the variety. I am a South African supporter and feel confident they should win. However, the trouble with SA (vs Australia) has always been in their attitude, as highlighted by Rudolph's quote "..try and put on a good peformance.." TRY? Gee, what confidence! In the words of Yoda: "Do, or do not. There is no try."

  • John on November 11, 2011, 4:58 GMT

    SA have nothing to be upbeat about. Australia lost 10 wickets for 47. but SA lost 9 for 47 themselves, from 49-1 to 96 all out. Then Amla should have been out at the end of the day, but Hussey grassed a simple catch. I guess SA will feel that at least they are still in it, when even a club side would have made enough to give them a really stiff task in the 4th innings, but a couple of quick wickets tomorrow and Aus could easily take this. This isn't a contest about who can win, it's about who will lose.

  • Dummy4 on November 11, 2011, 4:12 GMT

    go sa make it 1-0 and grab the all important momentum before the wanderers test

  • Manesh on November 11, 2011, 4:09 GMT

    one team all out in 25 overs and another one in 18 overs! this is gonna kill the test cricket...If everything will end in 2 days, what will viewers do? Ticket for a test cricket will be worthless!

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