March 16, 2002

Kingsmead Test seesaws through amazing second day

The third Castle Lager/MTN Test match see-sawed through its second day at Kingsmead on Saturday at such a furious pace that at times it was difficult to keep up with it. When the dust had settled at stumps, though, Australia were 159 for eight in their second innings, 307 ahead of South Africa with three days still to play.

On Saturday no fewer than 17 wickets fell as 278 runs were scored. These figures might suggest a substandard pitch, but the truth is that this has been a very good surface on which the batsmen of both teams have tended to throw bat at ball with an abandon that has often careered over into recklessness.

As Australian wickets tumbled in the late afternoon some of their supporters might have wondered whether the infamous Kingsmead tide was coming in. It is part of Durban's folklore that the tide has an effect on the behaviour of the pitch. Then again, South African wickets had fallen with equal regularity during the earlier part of the day and perhaps the most plausible explanation is simply that both teams have been caught up in the frenzy of it all.

Some purists might be offended by this approach to Test match cricket. The other view, of course, is that it has been wonderful entertainment.

South Africa had been one down for 48 overnight, Gary Kirsten having got out in dubious light on Friday evening. Nightwatchman Paul Adams didn't last long in the morning and he was quickly followed by Graeme Smith.

The wicket the Australians wanted, though, belonged to Herschelle Gibbs and after reaching a sumptuous 51, he was caught at the wicket, trying to force Jason Gillespie off the back foot.

Then Shane Warne got into the act on both sides of lunch. Jacques Kallis and Neil McKenzie had taken 17 off his first two overs but then he induced a return catch from Kallis, had Ashwell Prince swat a rank full toss to mid on for a 32-minutes duck and took another return catch off a leading edge from Mark Boucher. At one point South Africa had been 48 for no wicket on Friday evening. Now they were 119 for seven.

McKenzie and Andrew Hall put on 29 for the eighth wicket before McKenzie was sensationally caught by Damien Martyn at point, leaping and changing hands to take the ball in his left, or off, hand.

Warne and Brett Lee finished off the innings with four wickets apiece and South Africa were all out for 167. Australia's lead, you would have thought, was substantial enough to ensure that they would win in the end.

And still they might, but their second innings followed a similar course to South Africa's first with wickets tumbling at regular intervals. David Terbrugge snapped up both openers cheaply, Ricky Ponting again looked in magnificent form until he top-edged a hook high down to fine leg for 34 and suddenly Australia were wobbling at 77 for three.

It got worse quickly. Kallis bowled Mark Waugh for 30 and had Damien Martyn caught at the wicket hooking for a duck four balls later, Adam Gilchrist became Kallis's third victim, caught behind off a thin edge for 16, reducing his average for the series to a mere 157.66, and Warne was snapped up at silly point off Adams for 13.

Steve Waugh, though, had dug in in what is almost certainly his last Test innings in South Africa. With Gillespie hanging around for a while Australia crept up to 150 for eight and then took their lead over 300 after Adams had had Gillespie quite brilliantly caught by Kallis at slip.

Australia had kept Brett Lee back and, as the sun dipped behind the Berea again, he got one or two up the nose from Makhaya Ntini in similar conditions to those in which Lee had let rip at Kirsten on Friday evening.

Unlike Friday, though, the umpires conferred only once before offering the light to the batsmen and Waugh (34 not out) and Lee (5 not out) will continue batting on Sunday morning. How long, of course, remains to be seen, but the lead is probably at least 50 short of giving Australia a sense of security.

The pitch, of course, is only two days old at this stage, and still playing beautifully. This has been such an odd Test match, though, that you can't really be sure of anything. Could South Africa chase anything around 400? You wouldn't bet on it, but then again, after two days of a topsy turvy Test match, you probably bet against it either.