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Another exceptional day of Test cricket saw 12 wickets fall in the battle of the heavyweights in the title decider at Perth on Friday. South Africa failed to make the most of their opportunity with the bat, crumbling to 75-6 in the first hour after lunch before a defiant Faf du Plessis denied Australia once again. The 1-test old batsman made an unbeaten 78 to help his side post a semi-respectable 225 in their first innings. South Africa's fast bowlers then made sure their side was far from out of the contest by taking two early wickets to set up the prospect of what should be a very entertaining weekend at the WACA.
The eagerly awaited third and deciding test match between hosts Australia and world no.1 test team South Africa got underway amidst high expectations on Friday. With both previous tests in the series having ended in stalemates, it was going to be a straight shootout in this one with the winner taking all. The South African captain Graeme Smith won the toss and chose to bat first with a view to put runs on the board in this crucial game.
Both sides decided to ring in the changes for this game in order to bring in some fresh legs for this encounter after two energy sapping test matches. The visitors decided to give a first test cap to left hand batsman Dean Elgar in what was a straight swap at No.7 for the inconsistent Jacques Rudolph, while left arm spinner and bowling all-rounder Robin Peterson too made a surprise comback at the expense of the leg-spinner Imran Tahir who was taken for runs in Adelaide. South Africa also welcomed back seamer Vernon Philander for the unreliable Rory Kleinveldt for this marquee clash.
Australia on the other hand took the gamble of resting regular quickies Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus for the two left arm quickies Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc while the injured James Pattinson was replaced by the steady pacer John Hastings, was making his test debut at the prime old age of 27. Aussie vice captain Shane Watson too made an expected return at the expense of left hand batsman Rob Quiney after missing the first two tests due to injury.
Crucially, Proteas mainstay Jacques Kallis was deemed fit to take the field for this test and made the side as a pure batsman. It was also an emotional moment for one of the game's greatest ever batsmen Ricky Ponting, who was playing the final test match of his career.
The action began on an intriguing note as both sides indulged in what was a battle of attrition. The Aussie bowling attack was always going to be tested in the absence of regular first teamers Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus. The new comers in Mitchell Starc and John Hastings opened the bowling on an expectedly bouncy wicket at the WACA and had a good start to settle the nerves. They troubled the batsmen with movement and bounce early on to keep the fielders interested.
The South African openers, Graeme Smith and Alviro Peterson survived a couple of very anxious moments at the start, so much so that Peterson had to use a review to overturn an lbw appeal gone against him. The seasoned duo though seemed to have weathered the storm and began to score freely soon after.
Australiaâ€™s come back man Mitchell Johnson was used after the first half hour along with vice-captain Shane Watson. Just as South Africa were beginning to look comfortable, the duo bowled exceptionally in tandem and pegged things back. Johnson got the ball to talk on a nippy WACA wicket straight away and troubled his old bunny Graeme Smith with extravagant bounce from a length. Johnson nearly got his man in his second over getting Smith to fend one to gully, only to see the ball drop agonizingly short of the fielder. It wasnâ€™t long before the rampant Aussies got their man though, as Watson, the man with golden arm struck from the other end. The pressure built up paid off right away with Smith nicking one to his opposite number at second slip after having made just 16.
The composed Hashim Amla then walked out to bat and got things moving with the steady Alviro Peterson. The duo added 23 for the second wicket before Petersonâ€™s hard work was undone on the stroke of lunch. The elegant right hander saw his stumps rattled by a feisty Mitchell Starc who got one through the gate of the South African.
Peterson made a good looking 30 and left with the score on 61/2. The damage wasnâ€™t complete though as Starc got the big fish a couple of overs later. Proteas mainstay Jacques Kallis (2) soon departed prematurely in identical fashion to Peterson playing outside an incoming ball only to hear the dreaded sound of timber. At lunch, it was Australia who took the honours with the visitors on a dodgy 63/3.
Capitalizing on the momentum before lunch the Aussies went for the kill and fired on all cylinders after the break. John Hastings nearly had the wicket of key man Hashim Amla when the latter scooped a simple chance to mid-wicket in the first over on the resumption of play. It wasnâ€™t to be though as Ed Cowan soiled the chance that could have given Hastings his first test wicket. Australia didnâ€™t let up though as a sharp effort from David Warner in the field saw him hit the stumps direct, running out Amla for 11 in the very next over.
That wicket opened the flood gates for the hosts as Hastings quickly removed the dangerous AB de Villiers (4) in his next over, getting a late out-swinger to take the edge through to the safe hands of Michael Clarke at first slip. Mitchell Johnson then worked up a heavy head of pace from the other end and troubled debutant Dean Elgar for a couple of overs before snapping him for a duck, caught by the keeper off a quick short ball. South Africa as result had capitulated to 75/6 within the first half hour after lunch.
The Proteasâ€™ saviour in Adelaide, Faf Du Plessis rose to occasion once again to take the score to a semblance of respectability. After having had a rough time early on, Du Plessis rode his luck and began to counter attack. He found an able partner in Robin Peterson who too counter attacked in fine style for a lower order player, looking for runs all the time. The duo added a commendable 57 runs in quick time before off-spinner Nathan Lyon struck for the Aussies, against the run of play. Peterson mistimed his cut shot on the bouncy track and edged one to Wade right at stroke of Tea, much to the dismay of the Proteasâ€™ dressing room.
Despite that setback, South Africa continued to counter-attack after the tea break with Du Plessis bringing up his half-century off exactly a hundred balls. He found another able partner in Vernon Philander, who despite getting some nasty short balls, took the attack to the Aussies, playing some breathtaking cricket shots for someone who is classified primarily as a bowler. At the end of 62 overs, South Africa had recovered to 180/7.
The duo brought up their 50 partnership shortly after, but Philander's impatience got the better of him as an attempted pre-meditated slog off Nathan Lyon went awry. Philander failed to get to the pitch of the ball, and Mike Hussey did well to hang on to a skier to send the allrounder back for 30.
Du Plessis took South Africa past 200, but the Proteas soon lost Dale Steyn, bowled off the inside edge of his bat by Mitchell Johnson for 2. He was replaced by Morne Morkel, who spanked the first three balls he faced from Johnson for boundaries to make it clear that he wasn't going to hang around and block. His cameo though lasted only a few more overs as Morkel (17) became Lyon's third victim as South Africa's innings folded for 225.
Du Plessis remained unbeaten on 78, an incredible start to his test career.
Australia had just under an hour to survive till the close of play as their slow over rate meant an extended day's play. South Africa though took the opportunity to claw their way back into the Test match as Dale Steyn struck in the very first over, dismissing Ed Cowan for a golden duck, caught in the slips. Vernon Philander kept up the pressure at the other end trapping Shane Watson plumb leg before (though a TV referral was surprisingly required) as Australia slumped to 18-2.
With the fans on their feet expecting Ricky Ponting at no.4, Australia pulled a bit of a fast one, sending out the nightwatchman Nathan Lyon with 25 minutes still left to play. South Africa did not have much luck in the rest of the session with the ball beating the bat with monotonuous regularity and the one edge it caught did not carry to the slips.
Australia ended the day at 33-2 after 11 thrilling overs, setting up the prospect of a tantalizing day 2 in Perth.
Australia: E Cowan, D Warner, S Watson, R Ponting, M Clarke, M Hussey, M Wade, J Hastings, M Johnson, M Starc, N Lyon
South Africa: G Smith, A Peterson, H Amla, J Kallis, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, D Elgar, R Peterson, V Philander, D Steyn, M Morkel
South Africa 1st innings 225 all out (74 overs, 3.04 rpo)
F du Plessis 76* (135) M Starc 2/55
R Peterson 31 (45) N Lyon 2/38
Australia 1st innings 33-2 (11 overs, 3 rpo)
D Warner 12* (31) D Steyn 1/19
- 02/12/2012 09:41 - Australia need 632 runs to win Perth Test and take over No.1 Ranking, 40-0 at Close of play
- 01/12/2012 16:35 - Steyn and Amla seize control at the WACA
- 01/12/2012 09:55 - South Africa take complete control of Perth Test, stretch lead to 292