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A new lineup, a new order - and yet so many past echoes at the Oval

Cricket

Test cricket, with its ebbs and flows, its rewards for patience and resilience, has re-asserted itself at Adelaide Oval, in an odd mixture of the normal and the strange.

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Given that the pink ball and the day-night format still seems to produce smaller scores than we have become used to, a first day that ends with South Africa choosing to end its inning at 9/259 and Australia looking forward to its second day at 0/14 seems about par. One for normal.

Faf du Plessis came in with his side in trouble at three out for 44 just after the first hour and spent most of the day turning things around.

That’s another normal.

It’s what he did last time he was in Adelaide, exactly four years ago, in his first Test match. Twice. In the first innings then, he was last out, for 78. In the second innings, he batted for well over a day to save the game, with an unbeaten century. Another normal?

Australia took what seemed to be a wicket with a no-ball. That’s becoming a normal, whatever stern words Darren Lehmann might have spoken.

This time it was Mitchell Starc, and in the third over of the day, what’s more.

Stephen Cook, who is having great trouble these weeks getting his feet to move as he would like them to, was so comprehensively beaten leg before wicket that he did not even seek a review, and rightly so. It was missing off stump, and it was missing leg.

Not until he was two-thirds of the way to the boundary did we all discover that it had been illegal. Starc had not managed to land the necessary smidgin of his front foot behind the line as he bowled. Re-enter Cook, giving thanks for third umpires.

Starc soon atoned, more or less, drawing an uncertain Dean Elgar forward for an unsurprising edge to Usman Khawaja – a wicket which owed a fair bit to Starc’s impeccable bowling partner Josh Hazlewood, who had had Elgar all at sea before Starc finished the job. South Africa then 1/12.

It was also the beginning of a routine of the over-excited ground announcer boosting the appearance of the new bowler as though he was an undistinguished middleweight pug

Quite soon, Steve Smith rested Mitchell Starc, who in truth had not bowled all that tidily despite his breakthrough wicket and his illegal non-wicket. It was the beginning of a day of short spells by the three Australian quicks.

It was also the beginning of a routine of the over-excited ground announcer boosting the appearance of the new bowler as though he was an undistinguished middleweight pug in a preliminary bout not being watched by a bored crowd in a half-empty boxing tent actual and moral light-years ago.

It’s all part of the fun in T20, but in a Test match?

As in the boxing-tent of my sour imagination, the crowd dealt with this fatuous spruiking intrusion by ignoring it. This might have had a bit to do with the fact that nobody could hear what this urger was actually saying, whether he was announcing bowling changes or incoming batters, or doing the voice-overs for the ads that played on the big screens whenever an opportunity presented itself. If I had paid for this opportunity to sell more of my wares, I would be asking for my money back.

Anyway, the cricket went on. Jackson Bird bowled a horrid and wayward first spell during which the debutant Matthew Renshaw got into the game, assisting Josh Hazlewood, as usual, to get the great Hashim Amla out for not many, as usual, with an elegantly taken low catch at first slip.

It was no cinch, but Renshaw made it look as though he’d been doing this sort of thing all his life. He possibly has. It’s just that so far it is a very short life. He’s twenty. Acts much older. (More on this later.)

Australian batsman Matt Renshaw evades a bouncer on day 1 of the third Test match between Australia and South Africa at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016.. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY, IMAGES TO BE USED FOR NEWS REPORTING PURPOSES ONLY, NO COMMERCIAL USE WHATSOEVER, NO USE IN BOOKS WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT FROM AAP

Matt Renshaw evades a bouncer on day one of the third Test, as he awkwardly opened the batting with Usman Khawaja for Australia. Photo: Dave Hunt / AAP

After the first hour, South Africa at 2/44 was in a spot of bother, and it got worse. Three out for 44, each of them dismissed for 5.

Meanwhile, Bird was leaking runs like a sieve, to the point that Stephen Cook, now with the calming presence of du Plessis at the other end, even began to look comfortable.

This was a problem.

With a scant four bowlers, Bird was going to have to take on a heavy load, but he also had to keep it tight. Smith had to take him off when he might have liked to rest the others longer. But the short spells worked for everyone, Lyon joined in with spin, and then the astute Smith gave Jackson Bird a chance to redeem himself in the last quarter-hour before the tea break, when du Plessis and Cook had no interest in anything except surviving.

Bird, whose first five-over burst for 29 runs must have been demoralising and frightening, responded. Two tight overs, in which the only runs he gave up could have been put down to untidy fielding. He was back in the game, restored by a wise captain. (In the end, after that five-over horror start, he bowled another 11 overs for only 28 more runs, and two wickets.)

There seemed this time to be no special difficulty with the pink ball

At the tea break, after the first two hours, South Africa was 3 out for 89, du Plessis already plainly there for as long a haul as he could get company for, and Rolls-Royce smooth, Cook still there, but again less fluent after his brief holiday during Bird’s first spell.

Almost despite themselves, the Australians had their collective foot on the South Africans’ throat. But, Hazlewood apart, they had not bowled well, or even with much in the way of erratic menace. Strange.

Australian bowler Josh Hazlewood is see on day 1 of the third Test match between Australia and South Africa at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY, IMAGES TO BE USED FOR NEWS REPORTING PURPOSES ONLY, NO COMMERCIAL USE WHATSOEVER, NO USE IN BOOKS WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT FROM AAP

Josh Hazlewood has four wickets, which could have been five but for a surprise declaration. Photo: Dave Hunt / AAP

And there seemed this time to be no special difficulty with the pink ball. My hunch is that pink ball 2.0, with its all-black stitching replacing the original mix of white and green threads, is easier to see in flight. Pink-ball magic may have passed us by.

But if this had been lunch after the first session of a day game, the crowd would have been abuzz, and talking of nothing else. Yet it was almost as though nothing much had happened. Another one for strange. Ask cricket captains if they’d take 3/89 when bowling in the first session of a Test and to a man and woman they would reply, “Yes please. How many of those can I have in a lifetime?”

Unlike lunch-time, of course, it was only a twenty-minute break – time to stretch the legs and hose down a compulsory beer, and back into it. And back into it went the Australians, this time with clearer purpose and intent.

Stephen Cook lasted only long enough for he and du Plessis to post the first 50 partnership of the innings, Bavuma, de Kock and Philander came and went without much disturbing the sunny afternoon – each characteristically, Bavuma trying to dig in, de Kock making hay, Philander unhappily.

Australian won that session. They took four wickets for only 76 runs as South Africa advanced to 7/165. Du Plessis had cruised to 65, but who would stay when play resumed under lights after the long dinner-break. Wasn’t this supposed to be the evil hour?

It was, but not in the way expected. In that eerie period as you gradually realise it is not daylight any more but floodlights, that time when it is supposed to be hardest to bat, du Plessis prospered and Kyle Abbott hung in there and contributed 17 to the second 50-partnership of the innings.

After just short of an hour, Faf du Plessis completed what he is likely to remember for a long time as his favourite Test century. The booing was dumb and graceless, but I thought it was swamped by generous and sustained applause.

South African captain Faf du Plessis reacts after scoring a century on day 1 of the third Test match between Australia and South Africa at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. Australia play South Africa in the third and final Test match tomorrow. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY, IMAGES TO BE USED FOR NEWS REPORTING PURPOSES ONLY, NO COMMERCIAL USE WHATSOEVER, NO USE IN BOOKS WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT FROM AAP

Centurion Faf du Plessis holds his arms and bat aloft. Photo: Dave Hunt / AAP

At the end, Tabrais Shamsi, a gold-standard number eleven in almost any team you would pick, surprised almost everyone after a hesitant start by slogging a quick 18 off some thoughtless bowling.

Then Faf DuPlessis surprised perhaps slightly fewer people by closing the innings –possibly depriving Josh Hazlewood of a thoroughly deserved five-wicket haul to crown a day of superb bowling.

Du Plessis did it, as everyone now knows, in time to prevent David Warner from coming out to open the batting for Australia, because Warner had not been back on the field for long enough after a temporary retreat to the dressing-room for treatment to an injury.

It is not impossible du Plessis has handed the Australian captain a new batting order

So Matthew Renshaw, the debutant, had to come out with an unexpected partner, Usman Khawaja.

Australia's David Warner grabs at his arm while playing South Africa during their cricket test match in Adelaide, Australia, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

David Warner’s injury gave the first day an intriguing sub-plot. Photo: Rick Rycroft / AP

They didn’t bother with runs, although some eventually came. They had to survive twelve overs – 72 deliveries. And they did. Calm, cool, compact in action, strategic in selection of what to leave.

Renshaw, tall though he is, was composed, simple and direct in action, looking like experienced opening bats of previous eras, waiting for the ball to come to him. This young man has cricket and other maturity beyond his years.

Today we will find out more. It is not impossible, though, that François du Plessis has handed the Australian captain a new batting order. Renshaw, Khawaja, Smith, Warner…?

Michael Jacobs is a freelance writer.

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