First Test

Australia v South Africa

At Adelaide, December 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. Australia won by 246 runs. Toss: Australia.

After an inconclusive series against New Zealand, Australia entered this match with the objective, expressed by Steve Waugh, of proving they were "still a very good cricket side". They accomplished it with ease and a session to spare, although South Africa's final, hasty capitulation made it look a little too easy.

Although Australia had left out a second spinner, Waugh did not hesitate to bat first on a benign surface. The busy Langer punctured the covers thrice in Ntini's opening over, and breezed to his fifty with nine boundaries. The attack soon appeared ineffectual, not to say monotonous; it took smart work at cover by Dippenaar to remove Ponting and end his two-hour partnership with Langer. Some thoughtful left-arm spin from Henderson checked Australia. After striking Henderson for six to reach his fourth century in five Tests, Langer became curiously becalmed, spending 100 minutes over his last 14 runs before edging to slip. Both Waughs failed in their 100th Test together, and when Gilchrist followed, South Africa were back on level terms. But Martyn was ominously poised. Aided by Warne and Lee, he prolonged the innings by another 51 overs next day. Martyn's first home Test century, his highest yet, made up in value what it lacked in spectacle. By game's end, his record at Adelaide was 210 runs without dismissal in four Test innings.

Steve Waugh turned to Warne for the fourth over of South Africa's reply, and was almost rewarded at once as Kirsten's edged drive barely eluded slip's grasp. Just when the openers appeared settled, McGrath baffled Kirsten with a full toss and conned Dippenaar into an undisciplined slash. Without a three-hour stand of 141 between the studious McKenzie and Boucher, the South African innings would have been a ragged affair, and their deficit far greater than 65.

Warne returned to something like his best, recovering his menacing drift into the right-hander, and bowling over and round the wicket with all his old facility. His plot to uproot Gibbs was one for the scrapbook: a beguiling leg-break into the footmarks spun round the advancing batsman for Gilchrist to execute the stumping. After bagging five in an innings for the 20th time in Tests, Warne volunteered that a target of 250 in the fourth innings would be demanding: "The pitch is going to get worse, and it will keep lower for the fast bowlers." His prognosis showed why John the Bookie had once valued his opinions.

Batting became more difficult from the fourth morning, when inconsistent bounce accounted for an impatient Ponting, but it should have been worse: South Africa's bowlers went through some rather unimaginative motions. Pollock overused Henderson so much that at one stage he had nought for 109. Hayden was allowed to put on 181 at better than a run a minute with Mark Waugh, and he sacrificed his wicket only when Australia began accelerating towards a declaration. Steve Waugh gave South Africa 12 overs plus the last day to score 375. With a sniff of assistance from the pitch, his men crowded the bat and attacked the stumps, hassling and hustling for a breakthrough. Both openers prodded anxiously to short leg, Kirsten from the day's last delivery. The final morning was a rout. The tourists' doubt about the bounce showed in their diffident shots and non-shots, smacking of mental frailty. Kallis alone suggested permanence, steering them away from the ignominy of 74 for eight to finish unbeaten after almost four hours.

An unusual feature of the match was that four wickets were forfeited by no-balls. Lee was responsible for two: Henderson and McKenzie, reprieved when caught at the wicket on the third day. Lee also blotted his copybook with his last over that evening, bowling four consecutive bouncers of escalating viciousness to Ntini and Hayward, both new to the crease, neither with pretensions to batsmanship. The first and second hit Ntini resoundingly on the helmet, the third and fourth chased the retreating Hayward to the extremity of the crease, while umpire Taufel remained mute.

The rest of the Test demonstrated the needlessness of this sideshow; the Australians did not have to intimidate in order to seem intimidating. Lee finished with two tail-end wickets, while the old stager Warne won the match award with eight. His first-innings five for 113 was the best by a leg-spinner at Adelaide since Richie Benaud's five for 96 against West Indies in 1960-61. It took Warne past 50 Test wickets in the calendar year and lifted him to fourth in the all-time Test bowlers' table, passing Wasim Akram's 414.

Man of the Match: S. K. Warne.

© John Wisden & Co