Third Test

South Africa v Australia, 2008-09

Geoffrey Dean

At Cape Town, March 19, 20, 21, 22, 2009. South Africa won by an innings and 20 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debuts: I. Khan, J. A. Morkel; B. E. McGain.


Paul Harris turned in a career-best performance, South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, 4th day, Cape Town, March 22, 2009
Paul Harris helped South Africa to a consolation win © Getty Images
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After a four-day break for all their players when wives and girlfriends flew in, the Australians played, in Ponting's view, as poorly as they had for some time. South Africa, by contrast, at last reproduced the sort of form that had won them the previous series in December, inflicting Australia's first innings defeat since they lost to India at Calcutta in March 1998. The result also ended a long sequence of success for Australia at Newlands, where they had been victorious in nine of their ten previous Tests, losing only in 1969-70. South Africa dithered over their choice of captain to replace the injured Smith, initially naming Prince, who had not played a Test since November, only to backtrack and allow Kallis to lead for the second time (his other taste of Test leadership came in the final game of the previous home series against Australia).

After winning his sixth consecutive toss against South Africa, Ponting soon became a maiden Test victim for Albie Morkel, who had replaced his brother Morne in the side. It was Morkel's only wicket of the match, but a vital one nonetheless; Australia had been obliged to go in with only five specialist batsmen as they had no replacement for Marcus North, who had been admitted to hospital with gastroenteritis. Bryce McGain, a week short of his 37th birthday - the oldest debutant for Australia since his fellow leg-spinner Bob Holland in 1984-85 - came in, but the match was nothing less than a nightmare for him. McGain's tour portents had hardly been auspicious: he missed the flight out with the rest of the party.

Against some much improved bowling, no Australian batsman looked convincing on a good pitch. Katich, badly dropped at point by the debutant Imraan Khan when nine, scratched his way to 55 in nearly four hours before falling to a sweep shot off Harris, just as Hughes had done. Harris, skilfully using the breeze, tied up an end, allowing the pace bowlers to attack downwind. Steyn exploited a weak defensive shot from Hussey and a misjudgment by Clarke to bowl both in successive overs. Haddin spoilt a good start by poking across a straight one from Harris, whereupon the lower order folded meekly. South Africa scored quickly from the outset, taking 20 off Johnson's third over.

Although the disciplined Siddle finally made a breakthrough in the 18th over, the others were quite unable to contain the home side in excellent batting conditions. McGain had his second ball in Test cricket struck back over his head for six by Prince, who batted beautifully on his return to the side. McGain's tendency to drop short repeatedly proved very costly, as his first ten overs were ravaged for 93. His final return - none for 149 from 18 overs - represented the second-worst economy-rate by a Test debutant bowling at least ten overs (Shahadat Hossain of Bangladesh conceded 101 from 12 overs in his first Test, at Lord's in 2005), as many as eight sixes and 17 fours being crashed off him. Clearly, South Africa had targeted McGain, refusing to let him settle.

Prince, allowed to concentrate on the unfamiliar role of opener after being relieved of the captaincy the day after being given it, reached his 11th Test hundred in the course of hitting McGain for three successive fours. With Kallis, he added 160 in 38 overs for the third wicket to take the game away from Australia. Kallis played with equal freedom, completing his fourth century against Australia with 14 fours, as well as two sixes, almost inevitably off McGain. When both were out, de Villiers flogged a wilting attack in brilliant fashion, surging to 163. A calculated assault on McDonald brought him four (all to leg) sixes off consecutive balls, making him the third batsman to achieve this feat in Test cricket after Kapil Dev and Shahid Afridi. De Villiers's two previous scoring shots had been sixes off McGain; he hit seven in all, as well as 12 fours. His buccaneering seventh wicket stand of 124 with Morkel took only 20 overs, and ensured South Africa would reach 651, their biggest total against Australia (previously 622 for nine declared at Durban in 1969-70). The 62 extras were also the most conceded by Australia in any Test innings.

Needing 442 to make South Africa bat again, they were a beaten side by the time they lost their top six batsmen for 218 by the 89th over. Once again Harris dismissed both openers, Hughes edging an arm ball to slip and Katich, beaten in the flight, driving to mid-off. Later, Haddin miscued to deep mid-on. Steyn, back to his best, filleted the middle order - Ponting edging a drive, Hussey caught in the gully and Clarke playing on with no footwork.

Johnson and McDonald threatened to extend the match into the fifth day with wellexecuted and at times piratical strokeplay in a seventh-wicket stand of 163 in 26 overs, but it was in a lost cause. While McDonald played positively to canter to his first Test fifty from 56 balls, Johnson thundered to a maiden first-class hundred from 86 with what was his fourth six, a pull off Steyn. His unbeaten 123 came from 103 balls with 11 fours and five sixes. Of more significance as far as the match was concerned was the unsung Harris's return of six for 127, the first five-wicket haul in a home Test by a South African slow bowler since off-spinner Harry Bromfield, also at Newlands, against England in 1964-65.

Man of the Match: P. L. Harris. Man of the Series: M. G. Johnson. Close of play: First day, South Africa 57-0 (Khan 15, Prince 37); Second day, South Africa 404-3 (Kallis 102, de Villiers 39); Third day, Australia 102-2 (Katich 44, Hussey 13).

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