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1st Test, Brisbane, December 17 - 18, 2022, South Africa tour of Australia
152 & 99
(T:34) 218 & 35/4

Australia won by 6 wickets

Player Of The Match

Head 78* as Australia edge ahead on 15-wicket opening day

Two late wickets allowed South Africa to claw back but they still face the prospect of conceding a significant lead

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Travis Head made a brilliant half-century, Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 1st day, December 17, 2022

Travis Head, unbeaten on 78 at the end of the first, is key to Australia taking a significant lead  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

Stumps Australia 145 for 5 (Head 78*, Smith 36, Nortje 2-37, Rabada 2-50) trail South Africa 152 (Verreynne 64, Bavuma 38, Lyon 3-14, Starc 3-41, Boland 2-28, Cummins 2-35) by seven runs
Australia have almost edged ahead in the first Test against South Africa after a 15-wicket opening day at the Gabba. On a green pitch, South Africa were bowled out for under 200 in a fifth successive Test, in two sessions. Only two batters scored more than ten runs and there was only one partnership worth more than 15. In response, Australia were shaky at 27 for 3 before a 117-run fourth-wicket stand between Steven Smith and Travis Head put them within sight of the lead. Two late wickets allowed South Africa to claw back but they still face the prospect of conceding a significant lead.
The end-of-day scoreboard was a more accurate reflection of the difference between the two sides than the current World Test Championship table. While Australia's performance, especially in the field, underlined their authority at the top of the table, South Africa's batting belied their second place and revealed a familiar set of concerns in their line-up. Only Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma have previous Test experience in Australia and neither has scored a century in this cycle of the WTC. Two others, Sarel Erwee and Kyle Verreynne, have hundreds in this edition of the WTC but the overall lack of confidence and application is glaring even against an Australia attack that was not at its best.
Australia's opening bowlers were wayward upfront, often bowling too short and unable to maintain a consistent line, but they still got rewards. Mitchell Starc strangled Elgar down the leg side with a 140kph rib-high delivery before Pat Cummins forced Rassie van der Dussen to play a delivery in the channel and got him to nick off.
But it was Scott Boland, who really rocked South Africa. He had Erwee caught low down by Cameron Green in the gully and in the same over had Khaya Zondo lbw to a delivery that hit him on the back pad. Zondo reviewed but was out on umpire's call. South Africa were reduced to 27 for 4 with the last of the specialist batters at the crease.
All eyes turned to Bavuma, who has not batted in a competitive game since the T20 World Cup, and Verreynne. The two were frenetic at first and offered two run-out chances but ended up being the ones who lent the innings some respectability. Their 98-run stand was built on Verreynne's aggression against the short ball and Bavuma's patience. But that ended when Starc returned for a third spell and Bavuma inside-edged a delivery that moved off the seam on to his stumps. Verreynne had brought up his fifty by then but no-one in the lower order hung around long enough to support him.
South Africa went on to lose five wickets for 20 runs in 52 balls, including three to Nathan Lyon. He removed Marco Jansen, who stepped out to hit him over long-on but top-edged to a running Green, Verreynne, who played for turn and edged a straight one behind, and Anrich Nortje, who was done for bounce and lobbed the ball to silly mid-off. In between, Starc picked up his 299th Test wicket when he set Keshav Maharaj up with a bouncer and then had him caught at slip off a full ball.
As has so often been the case in the last two years, South Africa's bowlers kept them in the contest with statement opening spells. Kagiso Rabada started with a snorter of a short ball to David Warner, who jumped to ride the bounce and was caught one-handed by a leaping Zondo at short leg. Lungi Ngidi struggled for rhythm but Jansen also struck with his first ball and had Marnus Labuschagne stuck in the crease and caught at second slip. In the next over, Nortje's first, Usman Khawaja was caught on the back foot and edged to Simon Harmer, substituting at third slip.
Australia were exactly where South Africa had been and could have sunk into a similar collapse when Nortje thought he had Head for two. He nicked a back-of-a-length ball to second slip, where Elgar was unsure he had picked it up cleanly. A soft signal of not out was confirmed by the third umpire's office, where replays showed the ball bounced before reaching Elgar.
The momentum shifted from that point as Head returned to his natural fast-scoring game and raced to a 48-ball fifty. He was particularly severe on Ngidi and took 14 runs off his fifth over, including a flick over deep square that went for six and brought up his half-century. Smith was more circumspect and regularly practiced his stance at both ends but provided steady support before he was bowled by Nortje with less than five minutes to the close.
Boland was sent in as nightwatcher and lasted only four deliveries before he edged Rabada to Verreynne, and the late incisions kept the tension in the contest at the end of a highly entertaining day. A record 29,306 people were at the Gabba, the biggest first-day crowd for a non-Ashes Test at the venue.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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