First Test

South Africa v Australia, 2008-09

Geoffrey Dean

At Johannesburg, February 26, 27, 28, March 1, 2, 2009. Australia won by 162 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debuts: B. W. Hilfenhaus, P. J. Hughes, M. J. North.

Mitchell Johnson bowled Jacques Kallis, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 5th day, March 2, 2009
Mitchell Johnson starred in an all-round performance © AFP

Australia's fourth consecutive Test victory at the Wanderers was also the sixth in their last seven Tests in South Africa. The key to their success was a large first-innings total, a remarkable 466 on a sporting pitch where swing, seam movement and extra bounce offered pace bowlers encouragement throughout. While six Australians failed to make double figures, notably Phillip Hughes who was out fourth ball on debut, the other five batted extremely well, especially Marcus North, who became the 18th Australian to make a century in his first Test.

While the tourists had had the benefit of a first-class warm-up match at Potchefstroom, the South Africans had played only a few Twenty20 games since returning from their successful tour of Australia. This imbalance showed in the first three days when the home side (in particular their batsmen) looked underprepared. Even though they fought back to dismiss Australia for 207 in the second innings, a target of 454 was always likely to be unattainable on a surface whose cracks allowed some uneven bounce on the final day. South Africa were bowled out shortly after tea with 33 overs still remaining, the equivalent of half a day's play having been lost to bad light and rain earlier in the match.

A dropped catch on the first morning was undeniably significant, Smith missing Ponting when 40 at slip off Steyn. Had this straightforward chance been held, Australia would have been 67 for four with every chance of being bundled out for under 200 in bowlerfriendly conditions. But by the time Ponting - who celebrated by hooking the next ball for six - was eventually fourth out for an excellent 83, offering no shot to a huge breakback from Ntini, the ball was 41 overs old and 151 was on the board. It was a much more comfortable time for North to come in and, after a nervy start, he dug in to reach 50 from 104 balls and his hundred from 207. Although he soon lost Clarke, whose positive 68 contained some sparkling off-side strokes, the pugnacious Haddin gave some valuable support.

Equally important assistance came from Johnson, who came in at 296 for seven just after the second new ball had been taken. Poorly though South Africa bowled with it, North and Johnson batted with application and skill to add a crucial 117 for the eighth wicket in 36 overs. Johnson, having advanced carefully to a third Test fifty from 100 balls, then demoralised the South Africans with a calculated assault on Harris, hitting 26 off one over with three sixes and two fours. He also struck two sixes off Duminy, who was pressed into service because a back strain restricted Kallis to just eight overs in the innings. That proved another piece of good fortune for the Australians, for in their second innings Kallis's three-wicket burst in seven balls precipitated their collapse from 99 for one to 147 for eight.

Australia had taken a big gamble in selecting only three front-line pace bowlers and no specialist spinner. Their raw attack could muster only 23 caps between them, 18 of those Johnson's. They nevertheless did an admirable job in helpful conditions, backed up by fine catching and undistinguished batting. While Johnson probed with remorseless accuracy, Siddle's pace and aggression unsettled the home side. Hilfenhaus dismissed Amla with his second ball in Test cricket, and shouldered a heavy workload manfully; McDonald gave nothing away at a tidy military medium. Protracted resistance came only from McKenzie, who batted for nearly three hours, and de Villiers, who celebrated his 50th Test with a fine hundred, his eighth, reached in 181 balls. Kallis became the first South African to pass 10,000 Test runs (83 of them for the World XI).

Mindful that his attack was both tired and inexperienced, Ponting understandably declined to enforce the follow-on, wary also of uneven bounce on the last day. Apart from Hughes, who this time cut and carved his way to 75 from 121 balls, the Australian top order batted with uncharacteristic ineptitude against some improved bowling. At one point, South Africa looked as if they might need fewer than the 414 they had reached to win in Perth ten weeks earlier, but some audacious strokes from Haddin and Siddle helped burgle a psychologically important 60 for the last two wickets.

With the ball not swinging, and the bounce still true enough on the fourth afternoon, South Africa batted well to reach 178 for two with a day (and 98 overs) remaining. Smith's departure for an ebullient 69 nonetheless proved crucial for, deprived of their talisman, the others found batting very hard work on the fifth morning against some disciplined bowling. The Australians' pressure brought mistakes, with Amla, de Villiers and Kallis all getting themselves out. Duminy and Boucher both held on for more than two hours, but the tail was brushed aside. The splendid Johnson, with four wickets in each innings to go with an unbeaten 96, then his highest Test score, was an automatic choice for the match award.

Man of the Match: M. G. Johnson.

Close of play: First day, Australia 254-5 (North 47, Haddin 37); Second day, South Africa 85-3 (McKenzie 35, de Villiers 13); Third day, Australia 51-1 (Hughes 36, Ponting 1); Fourth day, South Africa 178-2 (Amla 43, Kallis 26).

© John Wisden & Co.