Jacques Kallis refused to wilt under pressure at Durban
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South Africa believe they are getting closer to matching Australia on the Test match field but, each time the divide threatens to get a little smaller, familiar foes have stood in the way. However, today they faced up to the challenge and counterattacked with a verve that deserves much praise. They showed similar fight on the second day at Cape Town before capitulating, but the key here is the day ended on a positive note rather than a late fall of wickets.
At 10 for 2, with Brett Lee consistently hitting above 150kph, the South Africans could have gone like a pack of cards, especially after a frustrating time trying to wrap up the Australian innings. But Jacques Kallis, who is playing under constant pain from what has been diagnosed as tennis elbow, refused to wilt. He was made to hop about, and was not always convincing against the short ball, but to beat Australia those are the periods batsmen have to battle through.
Ironically, it was Ricky Ponting's decision to bring Shane Warne and Andrew Symonds into the attack - so that the umpires wouldn't offer the light - that enabled South Africa to finish on a more level playing field than had appeared likely for most of the day. Ponting's move was another subtle way of Australia making a further statement of intent; they are already 1-0 up and could quite easily have headed for the dressing room, but this is not a team that plays for draws. South Africa are the ones who need to force the pace, yet would have been quite happy to kick their heels as the clouds rolled in.
Kallis clearly wasn't happy with the conditions and a couple of his boundaries were a release of frustration, but he and AB de Villiers soon realised that Warne and Symonds were not posing a huge threat. Kallis is certainly not considered a dasher among the world's leading batsmen, but followed his aggressive intent from the first Test. He hasn't had a huge amount of cricket of late, after sitting out the majority of South Africa's recent one-day matches, and the benefits of an extended period in the middle showed as his balance and footwork returned to something near their best.
The same can't be said of Herschelle Gibbs who, despite his astonishing 175 in that match at Johannesburg, continues to have a tough time in Tests against the Australians. He should have gone second ball today, Ponting shelling the chance at second slip, and there was an air of inevitability about his dismissal to Michael Kasprowicz. For the seventh time in nine knocks against Australia this summer he stumps were rattled - an unbelievably high number for a top-order batsman. Gibbs has always been prone to being bowled, given his keenness to free the arms at hit through the offside, but he has drifted further to leg and the Australians now aim to hit his stumps.
If Gibbs' manner of dismissal is becoming an unwanted similarity for South Africa, so is the identity of the man who held them up earlier in the day. Following a courageous draw at Perth in December, their winter began to unravel when Mike Hussey - never mind being Mr Cricket he is certainly Mr Fix It - and Glenn McGrath added 107 for the tenth wicket at Melbourne. The stand hauled Australia around from 248 for 9 and South Africa never fully recovered.
Hussey's intervention today was less dramatic, but no less important following Andre Nel's burst which left Australia 259 for 7. A repeat of his 122 at the MCG was looming with Stuart Clark providing combative support and the South African bowlers growing increasingly agitated. If Ponting had continued with his quicks Hussey would have been the story of the day, but his thunder was stolen by a courageous recovery. South Africa have shared the honours for two days, but for that gap to become permanently smaller it must continue for the next three.