Five-Fer: Talking points from a noisy St George's

Australia

Day one of the second Test against Australia started badly for the Proteas, and it felt like a case of deja vu when Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla were out cheaply, but a trio of fifties restored some order.

Day one of the second Test against Australia started badly for the Proteas, and it felt like a case of deja vu when Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla were out cheaply, but a trio of fifties restored some order.

It was not plain sailing for either side in overcast Port Elizabeth as fortunes swung back and forth a few times, and surprisingly considering the pre-match hype, the wicket did not play as feared.

Here are five talking points from the opening day:

<b>1. Pre-toss confusion</b>

It's an unusual sight to see Graeme Smith flustered. It doesn't happen often in the Test arena, given how dominant he's been as a skipper, and the Proteas as a unit, in the past five years. But before the toss he was not his usual poker-faced self.

Observers watched with interest, and glee in some cases, as Biff walked to the middle only to be diverted by Vernon Philander, who had initially been deemed a doubt for the game. Smith had Rory Kleinveldt on his team sheet, but was force to borrow a pencil at the toss to change it.

Philander went from unavailable to playing, and added to the other changes of Dean Elgar in for a sick Alviro Petersen and Quinton de Kock making his debut, Smith had to quickly prepare for Mark Nicholas' amused queries.

The skipper's lack of certainty carried over to his batting, as he opened the knock after winning the toss. He was out for nine, LBW for yet another poor score, but could take a smidge of consolation in that it wasn't Mitchell Johnson who bagged him this time.

<b>2. Chucked in at the deep end</b>

When the squad for this series was announced weeks ago, and Quinton de Kock was not in it, chief selector Andrew Hudson explained that he wasn't experienced enough in the longer format, and wanted him to play more four-day domestic cricket.

Despite his three centuries in a row in ODIs, and his keeping abilities, that reasoning actually made sense. We opined on Twitter that the selectors wouldn't go back on this as they'd look like clowns… and then they did.

De Kock was chucked in at five, a position he does not usually play (he's an opener) in a game that his side need to win to maintain a five-year undefeated series run.

While he wasn't facing Johnson on a screaming track, he was visibly nervous and fell to a bad shot off a bad ball to a bad bowler. He was out for seven, and the lame penis jokes commenced/continued.

<b>3. A composed effort</b>

Dean Elgar's previous experience against Australia saw him make a pair, both dismissals to Mitchell Johnson, on debut. Added to this, his CSA contract was not renewed this week, and he was apparently told this news at the same time he was told he'd be playing in this game.

So he had all the reasons in the world to have a scribbled 'Yeah Hudson, talk nah!' paper in his pocket. He started off slowly against Johnson and Harris, and took 20 balls to get off the mark, but he stood his ground.

His only previous Test score above 30 was the century he made against New Zealand a year ago, so his battling 83 off 193 balls, and a century stand with Faf du Plessis, was indeed redeeming. He will be annoyed at the way he got out though, against the run of play.

<b>4. Slower than expected</b>

For two days before this game, the headlines screamed about a 'green mamba' track that would resemble the Basin Reserve, and have batsmen's heads removed from their shoulders. But, aside from a few early overs, this was unfounded.

The pitch was mowed the day before, and while there was some grass on the surface, it was dry underneath and slower than anticipated. Much slower, really, as even Mitchell Johnson had to really put his back into it to hit 145 kp/h.

Interestingly, the Proteas dropped their 'premier' spinner in Robin Peterson, thinking this track would have nothing in it for him, and they were correct. Spin was negligible. But the slow bowlers took three of five wickets because the ball just did not go onto the bat, forcing the batsmen to push at it and get edges.

<b>5. Don't diss the band!</b>

You know how even if your brother is a complete screw-up and still lives at home with your parents at the age of 37, playing X-Box all day and drinking Red Bull, no-one else can say mean things about him? Yeah, like that.

The brass band at St George's park is annoying as all get out past the first 50 overs on day one, because they only play three songs and the national anthem. And Give Me Hope, Joanna gets stuck in your head for hours, and by day three the TV is on mute.

But it's a South African tradition and it wouldn't be the same without them. Remember the fuss about that trumpeter being banned from the Ashes? Yeah, it would be the same fuss. And how else would David Warner do the YMCA in the slips?

<b>Lindsay du Plessis</b>

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