USMAN Khawaja: average 20. Steve Smith: 27. David Warner: 37. There tells the story of Australia’s failure to compete against the South Africans in mid series. KEN PIESSE reports from Cape Town:
AS A disconsolate Steve Smith headed for the dressing rooms at Newlands yesterday, having flunked the high speed challenge of the South Africans, he knew the series fortunes had lurched irretrievably against his Australians.
Disconcerting bounce and reverse swing undid the Australians just 24 hours after their massive opening day comeback at this most picturesque of all South African grounds.
Smith’s scores have flattened innings by innings all summer and his series average of just 27 is a major factor as Australia eyes a two-one series scoreline coming to the decider in Johannesburg next week.
A fourth innings chase of even 250 looks beyond the Aussies, especially against this crack Protea attack, bolstered by the inclusion of a fired up Morne Morkel, whose milestone of 300 Test wickets was celebrated with gusto on and off the field.
On match eve here Smith had spent extra time in the nets facing the left arm spinners of reserve bowler Jon Holland and coach Darren Lehmann who provided throw-downs from around the wicket.
Smith had felt he needed the extra work coming in against the left arm finger spin of Maharaj, but instead it was the hostile, super ball bounce of the recalled Morkel which undid him.
On a series-swinging day in which one Western Province member was ejected for his abuse of a fallen David Warner as he was walking into the rooms, Australia failed to step up when it counted. As the legendary Springbok Barry Richards said last night, one team bats better than the other.
“The attacks are similar. But South Africa’s top six is more reliable. It also has AB de Villiers. He is the difference,” Richards said. “If South Africa wins here, the wicket in Johannesburg will be as flat as flat and make it almost impossible for Australia to get back into the series.”
Warner’s failure against the high speed of Rabada was pivotal, the sight of his off stump cascading back towards the wicketkeeper a body blow from which Australia never recovered.
Warner has thrown some punches but was ultimately outclassed by Rabada, fast becoming the best and most feared pace bowler in the world.
Only some late innings slogging from Nathan Lyon saved Australia from complete humiliation. A fifth day is unlikely to be needed here, unless the Australians can somehow find another gear. So far they have not looked like it. Their current position among the best three Test teams in the world flatters them.
South Africa First innings 311, Australia 9/245 (Bancroft 77, Lyon 47, Paine 33 not out), Morkel 4/87, Rabada 3/81, Phiulander 2/26.
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. Despite that setback, Ken has written, published and edited 86 books on cricket and AFL football to become Australian sport’s most prolific author.
His latest cricket book is David Warner, The Bull, Daring to be Different with Wilkinson Publishing, out now