I’m currently holidaying in New Zealand, so wasn’t able to see as much of this first Test as I’d like (i.e. all of it).
On the other hand, pretty much nobody saw more than 40 per cent of the scheduled play, so I should probably stop my complaining and get on with my report card.
The Sydney Thunder
The one thing in Australian cricket that has people buzzing from Christchurch to Dunedin, from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown, is the Sydney Thunder being bowled out for 15 in the Big Bash League.
A magnificent effort from the Green Sydney side that, more than anything, has given cricket a new unit of measurement – a new context – for innings.
For example, when Pat Cummins won the toss and sent South Africa in to bat, we might previously have seen the Proteas managing just 152 as a disappointing total.
Now, in this new world, we can see that they, in fact, scored in excess of a decaThunder!
A heroic performance.
Fighting with accountants
In reply, David Warner was dismissed off the first ball of the innings by Kagiso Rabada, as one might expect. Then, further strikes from Marco Jansen and Anrich Nortje had Australia in strife at 3/27.
But Steve Smith, rejuvenated in his batting (no doubt thanks to a brand new baggy green), and Travis Head, a man who has never met a counter he didn’t want to attack (this includes most accountants), fought back.
Incidentally, I found all the talk about ‘Smith’s new baggy green’ disappointing on several levels:
1) Smith’s not the captain anymore, Cummins is.
2) Cam Green’s not that baggy.
3) He’s not even that new.
4) Nor is it appropriate to regard the tall all-rounder as a possession of the skipper.
Lots of issues. Do better, folks.
The deck-painter’s ball
A century partnership between Head and Smith was broken shortly before stumps, sending Scott Boland to the crease.
A nightwatchman is the kind of thing that still infuriates many people. “Surely a tailender is even more likely to get out!” they’ll cry.
Well, yes. But not all wickets are worth the same. If the risk of getting out at the end of the day is slightly higher, then you’d rather that risk was pointed at a less valuable batter. That’s all a nightwatchman is.
It’s like how when you’re painting the deck, you take off your tuxedo and put on some old clothes. Sure, you don’t plan on getting the Driftwood Gray Oil-Based Timber Decking Stain on you before you head to the Deck-Painter’s Ball. But if it’s going to happen, better that it happens to your old Bananarama tee shirt.
Anyway, Boland did his job to perfection, surviving the minimum number of balls before being dismissed in the final over to send Australia to stumps at 5/145, almost precisely half a Sydney Thunder innings in arrears.
Having a sense of fun
Australia added a flailing 73 to their overnight total early on day two, reaching 218 all out and setting up one of the great Test match situations.
One of the best things about Test cricket – an aspect that ODIs, T20s and The Hundred can never dream of emulating – is the glorious spectacle of a team desperately scrambling to reach 66 to avoid an innings defeat.
South Africa fell to pieces in the face of not just a relentless Australian bowling attack, but a relentless pitch. On three occasions in the innings they lost three wickets in clusters – losing 3/2 when the score was on 2, losing 3/1 with the score on 47 and 3/5 with the score on 64.
That third blitz came shortly after the tea break, with Cummins finding himself on a hat-trick. The commentators at the time were suggesting the deliveries from Cummins were being wasted on the tail. Perhaps, but it’s not as if he doesn’t have a seemingly infinite supply of them.
Cummins being on a hat-trick opened the door for South African captain Dean Elgar to declare on the Australian captain. Sure, he’d be effectively conceding the Test match, but, on the other hand, it’d be revenge on behalf of Jack Leach, who was similarly denied a shot at a hat trick during last summer’s Ashes.
Alas, Elgar doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of fun. Shocker, I know.
And a good thing he doesn’t. Because a last-wicket partnership of 30 runs saw South Africa set Australia the most exciting fourth-innings chase of 34 in the history of Test cricket.
Australia lost four wickets in the chase, seeing Warner, Usman Khawaja, Smith and Head fall to Rabada, before a partnership of byes and wides heroically combined to secure Australia the win.
Perhaps the best summary of the Test match was post-match vision of Mitchell Starc being interviewed with his pads on at the end of a 34-run chase.
Still, you know what they say: Test cricket in Queensland – beautiful one day, all over the next.