The pitch was a let down, South Africa's selectors have some decisions to make, and other thoughts from the first Test between Australia and South Africa.
The pitch was a letdown, South Africa's selectors have some decisions to make, and other thoughts from the first Test between Australia and South Africa.
<b>Honours not quite even</b><br>They couldn't force the result, which would have taken a catastrophic collapse from South Africa even if they were a player short, but Australia undoubtedly finished the match on the front foot. If the match were scored on days then it might have finished two apiece, but on sessions Australia were easily ahead and it was they who made all the running on the final day in Brisbane.
If South Africa looked like they might enjoy another dominant series after the first three days (one of which was rained out) then they know now that they're in a proper fight. While the Australian bowlers were somewhat listless on the opening day – lacking in pace and devoid of ideas as the pitch turned out to be flat – then they found some energy in the second innings and put some genuine pressure on the Proteas. If they can continue that upward trend in Adelaide, and possibly bring in Mitchell Starc for Ben Hilfenhaus in order to add even more aggression, then they'll be tough to match.
<b>But South Africa Should Get Better</b><br>That said, the good news for South Africa is that they know there is much they can improve. That might start with selection, and an admission that leaving out a frontline spinner was the wrong call, even if the selectors could not be expected to forecast the freak injury to JP Duminy. Imran Tahir may not have convinced anyone that he is a top-class spinner as yet, but there is no doubt that he would have applied more pressure than Rory Kleinveldt managed (and that's without mentioning the 14 overs bowled by Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Alviro Petersen).
Selection aside, the no-ball problem needs to be fixed over the next nine days and the Proteas generally need to get their heads in gear. Although the performance on days one and three was pretty good, missed catches and run-outs led to dropped heads on day four as South Africa lost their drive. Having got through a very ordinary showing unscathed, the tourists must respond in a similar way to when they bounced back on the 2008 tour of England.
<b>South Africa's Selection Formula Is Complex</b><br>Just a bit more on selection though, because JP Duminy's injury has left the South Africans with a big call to make – particularly as Jacques Rudolph clearly has a major problem with off-spinners. In his last six Test innings, Rudolph has fallen to off spin on all but one occasion. He was out to Nathan Lyon twice here, and was somewhat embarrassingly out twice to Kevin Pietersen at Headingley. With an average of just 30.50 in that time and one half-century, his place must be on the line.
However that probably depends on the policy on picking a specialist wicketkeeper, and on how highly (or lowly) the selectors rate Thami Tsolekile's batting. Tsolekile averaged almost 60 in first-class cricket last season, but Faf du Plessis, who is also in line to replace Duminy, averaged 85. Throw in the question of how much AB de Villiers' batting might theoretically improve if he's relieved of the wicketkeeping gloves and you have a complex formula in which an outright answer to which combination gives the greatest output is elusive. The most likely outcome? De Villiers keeps the gloves until South Africa play New Zealand at home, and Du Plessis makes his debut in Adelaide with Rudolph retained.
<b>Preparing A Flat Pitch Was Foolish</b><br>There may have been momentary glimpses of artificial excitement on the final day, but in truth the Test as a whole never really sparked. Losing day two contributed to that, but the biggest disappointment had to be the Gabba pitch, which was about as flat as they come. For all the talk of a greentop that would be a fast bowler's delight, and would give two excellent attacks the opportunity to go head-to-head, instead there was very little for them to work with. The short ball was almost rendered redundant by the sluggish nature of the wicket over the first few days, and patience became the name of the game for long spells.
All of which would normally be fine – this is Test match cricket after all, and the odd dull track is to be expected. Except that this is a three-Test series in which everyone would like to see a result, so to have one match nullified by the pitch is a major let down.
<b>All Hail Michael Clarke</b><br>Pup's average in the 16 Tests since he took over the captaincy? 70.17. His average against South Africa in that time? 106.25. And his average on home ground in the past year? 130.75. It's fair to say that he wears the new crown well, and that he's been a real thorn in South Africa's side – it's easy to forget that in the 47 all out Test in Cape Town, it was Clarke who played the crucial innings in the first dig that saved Australia. Given how well he's batted in home conditions, and how important he is to a side with an inexperienced top three, Clarke's wicket is now the most prized of the contest.