Why South Africa might regret not picking a spinner, where Australia were lacking and other thoughts from the first Test at the Gabba.
Why South Africa might regret not picking a spinner, where Australia were lacking and other thoughts from the first Test at the Gabba...
1. Chink In The Armour
So much for all the talk of a spicy greentop. Although there was some swing early on and the odd bit of nip off the pitch, if anything the green layer of grass appeared to take the pace off the ball a touch. Without the zip and carry, conditions were fairly benign once the shine had worn off the ball, which fully vindicated Graeme Smith's decision to bat first.
However that being the case, one wonders why the Proteas left out Imran Tahir. Nathan Lyon was introduced as early as the 17th over of the day and found some turn, and although there is some rain forecast for day two, if the sun shines in between then conditions may well have given Tahir some purchase. There was speculation that his omission may have been because Jacques Kallis is not fit enough to bowl long spells, but there was no indication of that from Smith at the toss nor in the way that Kallis batted.
If the pitch turns into a batting paradise, as it did when England visited two seasons ago, then the seamers might have a lot of work to get through and a proper spinner may well be missed. And of course the decision carried greater gravity after JP Duminy injured his ankle during an end-of-play runabout.
2. That one question aside...
...it was obviously a very good day for South Africa. The key was the discipline and judgement shown by Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla either side of lunch when it came to playing deliveries outside the off stump. They waited for the bowlers to come straighter and make them play, whereupon they whipped it through the leg side for easy runs. Petersen is an excellent driver of the ball, yet he didn't score a run on the off side until he had 38 runs to his name.
Australia didn't bowl badly, but the fast bowlers were limited by the pace of the pitch, which rendered the short ball useless - Petersen pulled that option out of the attack with a couple of straightforward hits that went in front of square, a sign of how much time he had to play them. If there was a main criticism of the Aussie pacers, it was that they weren't patient enough at times, giving Petersen and Amla chances to score on the leg side rather than trying to frustrate them with regular maidens. And of course they gave both Amla and Kallis a life, which is generally a bad idea.
3. Hunting Lyon
Petersen will nevertheless be kicking himself, because South Africa were scoring at three runs an over when he made the decision to go after Nathan Lyon and was caught at mid-on. It was a soft dismissal after he'd done all the hard work. It did, however, appear to be part of a general gameplan to unsettle Lyon - both Amla and Kallis hit the offspinner back over his head for six, and Lyon finished the day with an economy rate of more than five.
Clearly the Proteas feel that Lyon is no great threat, and that if they can hit him out of the attack then it reduces Michael Clarke's options. The plan worked to an extent, with Clarke turning to Michael Hussey and Rob Quiney for almost as many overs as Lyon, which allowed Amla and Kallis to make serene progress.
4. Easy Does It
Visits to Australia have generally been emotional occasions for South Africa, given that the Aussies remain their greatest rivals. Yet what was so noticeable on day one was the calmness with which they went about their business. From Graeme Smith's laidback demeanour with Mark Nicholas at the toss, where he almost appeared to be turning out for a Sunday club game, to the customary manner in which Kallis and Amla batted later in the day, there never seemed a moment where the Proteas were caught up in the enormity of a first day of the Australian summer. A big part of Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton's mission since taking over last year has been to take the emotion out of an often highly-strung side, and their calmness seems to be increasingly rubbing off.
5. Long Way To Go
Don't go writing Australia off in this game just yet, because the close of play due to bad light might have come at the best possible time for them. They can start afresh in the morning with a new ball against a pair of batsmen who will have to get in again. If the bowlers learn from day one and improve on day two, especially with some cloud expected to be around, they could well make inroads. It's also worth noting that if Duminy's injury is serious - and it sounds as if it is if he was literally carried off the field by Allan Donald and physiotherapist Brandon Jackson - then South Africa are 255 for three, and a couple of early wickets could change things very quickly.