Resolute Rudolph thwarts Australia
Jacques Rudolph hit a superb 102 not out and battled for 283 deliveries as South Africa fought their way to a draw on the final day at Perth
Jacques Rudolph showed grace under fire as South Africa hung on at Perth
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A back-to-the-wall classic from Jacques Rudolph, battling for more than seven hours, defied Australia through the day as South Africa, losing just three wickets on the final day, escaped with a draw in the first Test at Perth. Thwarting Shane Warne's mesmeric wiles and countering the variations from the faster men, Rudolph constructed an all-important 102 not out and left the series wide open with two games to play.
For most of the day, Rudolph was ably assisted by Justin Kemp, whose uncharacteristic obduracy ate up valuable time. The indefatigable Warne, who wheeled away for a 35-over marathon today, troubled all the batsmen with his prodigious turn but, with the pitch playing true, even he couldn't break the brick wall that Rudolph resembled.
South Africa were handicapped by the loss of Jacques Kallis before the game, but it was another Jacques, his replacement, who pulled them out of the fire. Leading the way with a rock-solid effort, adept while handling both spin and pace, and unfurling gorgeous cover-drives with a pendulum-smooth follow-through, Rudolph displayed the sort of application that has become the hallmark of his namesake, who watched from the dressing-room and beamed when the game was saved. He wasn't lured by the wide teasers from the faster men, and he was impressive in the way he used his bat, and not pad, to nullify Warne's guile.
Resuming on 18, Rudolph was particularly impressive while handling Nathan Bracken's swing, waiting for the last moment before committing himself to any stroke. Glenn McGrath's yorkers were duly kept out and Brett Lee, who had a few erratic spells, was driven when the opportunity arose. By not withdrawing into a shell, and trying to score when the loose deliveries presented itself, Rudolph gave himself the best chance to bat through till the end.
Support arrived in the form of Herschelle Gibbs, and both sacrificed run-scoring, while concentrating on preserving their wickets. Just 10 runs came in the first 10 overs with only the occasional hint of reverse-swing that created flutters. Lee was rewarded for his persistence, nailing a flat-footed Gibbs pushing away from his body and celebrating after Warne pulled off a smart low catch at first slip. Rudolph, though, waded through the bowling with a fine mix of attack and defence. Warne, coming on to bowl after a tidy opening spell from the faster bowlers, weaved his web and worked his way around Ashwell Prince's pad-away policy - pushing him back and finally beating him with a big legbreak - before delivering the killer blow.
From then on, though, Rudolph's immovable presence was matched by Kemp's resolute methods at the other end. Kemp often used his pad to smother the big turn that Warne extracted from the rough and showed that he could adapt to a situation that required him to buckle down and bat with restraint. He had his share of nervy moments - nudges eluded fielders, a run-out chance was botched and a couple of perilous lbw appeals were turned down, mainly because of Warne's spinners pitching outside leg stump. Lee tried to set him up with a leg trap while McGrath probed in the corridor outside off. But he overcame all with a steely resolve, battling 166 balls for his maiden Test fifty, arguably his most important innings in his short career.
He finally fell, inevitably to Warne, when he pushed hesitantly at a legbreak and watched Ricky Ponting complete a superb reflex catch at silly point. But all the faint hopes that the dismissal ignited were snuffed out as Mark Boucher assisted Rudolph in batting out till stumps. Rudolph brought up his fifth Test century towards the end of the piece and as Warne and Ponting congratulated him on reaching the landmark, both might have been reminded of that tense August evening at Old Trafford when another classic hundred kept Australia alive in the Ashes.
Herschelle Gibbs c Warne b Lee 33 (3 for 109)
Pushed at a good-length delivery; good low catch at first slip
Ashwell Prince lbw b Warne 8 (4 for 138)
Played back to a big legspinner
Justin Kemp c Ponting b Warne 55 (5 for 250)
Lunged hesitantly; superb one-handed reflex catch at silly point
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo