The ‘Cam Green factor’ leaves Proteas on the ropes

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Not many teams in world cricket have the luxury of a number six batsmen who can bowl 140 kilometres an hour-plus, get steepling bounce and be deadly accurate. But Australia do with Cameron Green.

Just when it seemed like South Africa could bat out Boxing Day thanks to Kyle Verreynne and Marco Jansen’s big 112-run partnership, which would have heaped pressure on Pat Cummins’ decision to bowl first, the ‘Cam Green factor’ came into effect for the Aussies in a big way.

In already a star-studded Australian bowling line-up, he’s the bounciest of all. The one thing batsmen don’t like is the ball bouncing more than they expect. And then when he zeroed in, it was pacy, it was right in the ‘Avenue of Apprehension’TM, and it worked wonders.

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It was his first Test five-wicket haul to end a pretty big week for ‘Greeny’, after getting more than $3 million at the IPL auction from the Mumbai Indians. Coming at a time of need, with Mitchell Starc spending time off the field with a finger injury, made it even more special.

Before his burst of four wickets near the end – he’d already got Theunis de Bruyn earlier in the day – I was worried that, if Starc was going to be unavailable for the rest of the day, we still had 20 overs to get to the second new ball, which looked like being our best chance to break that partnership.

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Sure, Nathan Lyon would have bowled half of those, but then it would have meant more work for the other quicks as well, and we then wouldn’t have Starc with the new ball either. Green answered all those questions, and was economical as well as being a wicket-taking threat.

Sometimes I think Cam can get too technical-focused, and I understand that with his bowling, given the stress fractures that he’s had. But with his batting too, he can look like he’s really making sure that technically, he’s in a really good position every ball.

Sometimes I’d like to see him free himself up and show off his amazing talents. His first over on Boxing Day wasn’t fantastic, but in his second spell, he just ran in and looked like he wanted to bowl as fast as he could into that danger zone for batsmen, and his reward was a ‘Michelle’.

Let’s hope that goes on into his batting – I’d love to see him back up his bowling with runs.

Cameron Green celebrates a wicket.

Cameron Green celebrates a wicket. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

South Africa would have to be doubly disappointed – they had an opportunity to bat through the day which went out the window with that late collapse, and then sent down 12 pretty woeful overs late in the day in what could have been an ugy little period for Australia.

They ended up going for 45 – yes, they’ve picked up the one wicket, but Kagiso Rabada’s first over to David Warner was just all short and down the leg side.

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It was amazing to see Rabada, one of the great fast bowlers of the modern era, to start like that. It sort of set a tone. They’ve got to reverse that tomorrow and get wickets early, or it’s going to be a very long day in the field.

I don’t even know if he was meaning to bowl that many bumpers, because the short ball has more effect when it’s a surprise delivery, when you’re bringing the batsmen forward.

When you bowl, you’re either trying to keep the batsman on the crease and getting them to reach for something, or you’re pushing them back and setting them up for a full ball, or you’re pulling them forward and setting them up for a short ball. But when you’re just bowling half-trackers down the leg side like Rabada was, you’re going nowhere.

He just seemed to have no rhythm – where I thought it’d be 12 overs of just express pace, where Australia could have been two or three wickets down, he was well below par aside from a good ball to get Usman Khawaja caught in the cordon.

It was great for David Warner, who looked up and about and had the runs flowing early like Davey at his best. He looked aggressive and he looked punchy on his feet, and his running between the wickets was excellent.

There’s no doubt he wants to celebrate his 100th Test with as big a score as possible, which would mean raising his bat for a hundred. Only nine other players have been able to do that in their hundredth Test, and it’s a who’s who of some great batsmen – Ricky Ponting, Joe Root, Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Gordon Greenidge, Javed Miandad, Colin Cowdrey and Alec Stewart. That’s some company!

I was very surprised to hear rumours before the game that Cummins was considering bowling first if he won the toss. I went down to the pitch area before play, and it wasn’t as grassy as I thought it’d need to be to make you win the toss and bowl. Normally it’s got to be pretty green – maybe not quite as green as at the Gabba! – to do that. I’d have thought 99 per cent of the time, you’d bat first on that pitch.

The decision might have been based on winning at the Gabba in just two days after bowling first there, a pretty brittle South African top order, and a desire from Cummins to back himself and the bowlers to get them all out by stumps and then be batting in the intense heat forecast for Day 2, when it should be easiest to bat for the Test.

I still think that this pitch will end up being a new-ball pitch, where it’s dangerous early but if you can get through it, you can score plenty of runs.

Given that, the Proteas didn’t start badly at all – who knows what Dean Elgar could have scored if he didn’t run himself out. That was the captain showing all his grittiness and playing in his style – when they got straight, he whipped through the leg side, and when he got width, he played the cut shot.

But aside from him, it’s obviously not a talented top order, and Verreynne looks the best batsman in the team. Well done to him for another 50 after his one at the Gabba, I think he’ll score a lot of runs for them as a wicketkeeper-batsman.

Marco Jansen was the other one to impress with 59. He had problems against the short ball, and he looked really uncomfortable, but he hung around.

He’s only a young man, and I think technically there are a few things he needs to work on. In particular, when he gets on the front foot, his forward press goes outside leg stump. It’s hard to get out LBW there, but you’re really relying on your eyes and your hands to score runs, and if there’s any movement or extra bounce you’re in a tough position.

Aside from that pair, though, it was just more of the same with two big batting collapses – they’d fought so hard to get back in the game, and then lost five for 10 to be bowled out for under 200 again. That’s a concern.

Their job wasn’t made any easier by Marnus Labuschagne’s work in the field. He led the way with that run out of Elgar, and then the brilliant catch he took to get rid of Khaya Zondo.

The great thing about Marnus is he just wants to be in the game at all times, and works so hard on all his skills. He’s the best batsan in the world, but he can bowl leggies and medium-pacers as well, and he’s incredible in the field.

I think he’s inspiring for the next generation. We want multi-skilled players that can change games in the field and also pick up a handy wicket. For batsmen, he’s a real blueprint going forward on how big an impact you can have even when you’re not batting.

Marnus also saved a lot of runs with his chasing, so for a man who only just batted at the end, I thought he had a wonderful day.

Elgar’s dismissal was his fifth direct hit run out in international cricket this year. That’s the part of the game where we rated Ricky Ponting so high – he could catch well, he could save runs, but you’ve got to get run outs to be regarded as truly elite. And Marnus is getting himself into that top echelon.

I just love what he brings to the team, even when he’s not focusing on his main forte. That’s got to be infectious for the group, though Usman Khawaja dropped a catch he should have taken, and there were a couple of half-chances that went down too.

We’re leading the World Test Championship, and we want to win the final at The Oval in a few months’ time. We’ve got a lot of talent in all formats, but we’re only as strong as our focus on the one-percenters, and fielding and running between the wickets are a feature of that. Aside from that one blemish by Usman, I thought we were excellent in those areas on Boxing Day.

One of the highlights of the day was off the field, with the fantastic Shane Warne celebrations and tributes.

Pre-match, we saw everyone wearing the floppy hats with a bit of zinc on, and then obviously there was the tribute video of Warnie playing at the ground. Then at 3:50, when everyone stood for a standing ovation, it was so inspiring to hear 60,000 people chanting ‘Warnie’ again.

I thought it was a fitting tribute to such a great player, and a man who loved the MCG and loved Boxing Day. As a former teammate of the great man, that was really special.

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