First Test

Australia v South Africa, 2005-06


At Perth, December 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 2005. Drawn. Toss: Australia.

Brad Hodge became only the fifth Australian to turn his maiden Test century into a double, but Ponting's decision to delay his declaration to allow him to do so might just have cost his side victory. It still took a monumental display of calm concentration from Jacques Rudolph to save the Test: he batted throughout the final day, and more than seven hours in total, for his unbeaten 102 - but on a pitch that had become uncharacteristically slow, an extra hour might have made the difference.

South Africa were left with a target of 491 or, more realistically, 132 overs to survive. As Ponting said afterwards, that was "normally enough time for us to bowl out sides". But he seemed not to have noticed how easy batting had become as Australia piled up the runs and, against most expectations, the visitors batted out time with five wickets to spare.

Hayden set the tone for a surprisingly undisciplined batting performance on the first day, aiming a pull at his second ball and top-edging high to gully from some distance outside off stump. The early strike, however, appeared to add to South Africa's already jangling nerves, and none of the pace quartet - not even Pollock in his 95th Test - settled into a consistent line and length. Langer and Ponting repaired the early damage with an untroubled stand of 111, but the charity displayed by Hayden returned after lunch when three more batsmen - Langer, Hussey and Symonds - all donated their wickets with pull shots. The WACA pitch never offered its customary pace, and the bounce was unreliable - but that should have been a reason for not playing the shot, not an excuse for getting out to it.

Ntini's five wickets were thoroughly deserved, however, and it was a significant moment for South Africa's first black Test cricketer. Having made his international debut here eight years earlier, he was very conscious that this was South Africa's first Test on the ground - Australia were keen to keep them away from the place in the days when Allan Donald might throw flame at their batsmen.

South Africa's batting also promised more than it delivered. There was an opening stand of 83 between Smith and de Villiers, who hooked the first ball of the innings for four and put a poor trot behind him with a spirited 68. But Smith drove at a wide one and edged to second slip, Lee chipped in with two quick wickets and, when Warne trapped Prince in front - his 86th wicket of 2005, breaking Dennis Lillee's calendar-year record from 1981 - the innings threatened to implode at 187 for six, still 71 adrift. Boucher's half-century in a counter-attacking seventh-wicket stand of 77 from as many balls with Pollock ensured South Africa did take the lead, but it was a modest one of 38.

Langer was dropped before he had scored, and went on to 47 - but that was nothing to the 190 runs it cost South Africa when Kemp dropped Hodge at second slip off Langeveldt when he had only 13. Hodge's confidence grew by the minute after that, and he thumped drive after drive to the cover boundary as the bowlers' shoulders drooped. When the time came for Ponting's team-agreed declaration, 45 minutes before tea, Hodge had a glorious 176 not out. So glorious, in fact, that Ponting allowed him to carry on. Smith and de Villiers had retired to the outfield, practising forwarddefensives for the horrible half-hour they felt sure they were about to face... but it never came. The thought of batting more than four sessions to save the game was daunting. It might only have been 30 or 40 minutes fewer, but four complete sessions instead of four and a bit gave the South Africans a significant boost. Still, Hodge's innings was a gem. Striking boundaries seemingly at will after a cautious and unconvincing start, in all he faced 332 balls in 469 minutes and hit 22 fours.

An Australian victory seemed a formality when two wickets fell quickly, but Rudolph, playing only because Jacques Kallis had tennis elbow, and Gibbs batted through the final hour of the fourth day with little trouble. On the fifth morning, Gibbs was well caught at slip by Warne, who then trapped Prince in front again. At lunch it was 140 for four, and still nobody was seriously contemplating the draw.

The afternoon session, however, was a tale of the unexpected. Kemp, so ungainly and awkward against Warne in the first innings, used his long reach to smother the spin, while the much slighter Rudolph played both pace and spin with nerveless patience, happy to trust his reactions on the sluggish surface. Their unlikely but memorable stand lasted 112 runs - but more importantly, 52 overs - before Warne, who bowled 35 overs in the day, finally had Kemp snaffled at silly point. It was too late. Rudolph's vigil, in context, was as valuable as Hodge's. He might have gone to Australia as the reserve batsman, and his quiet, cerebral approach sometimes seems at odds with Smith's gung-ho style of leadership. Yet Rudolph proved that determination need not have white knuckles as its partner to succeed, and South Africa wriggled away, pride enhanced, to fight again.

Man of the Match: B. J. Hodge. Attendance: 57,583.

© John Wisden & Co.