South Africa’s comeback sparked to life in front of a buoyant, musical St George’s crowd to breathe energy back into the series as its fast bowlers later found joy in a pitch that had given Australia its toughest workout of the summer.
The second day of the second Test on Friday (February 21) meandered for the first four-and-a-half hours as South Africa accumulated 423 at a pedestrian scoring rate that reflected the pace of the pitch. But the final two hours brought four wickets for it and a run-a-ball half-century for David Warner, as the game leapt along, leaving Australia at 112 for 4 at stumps with the knowledge that it is in a real contest.
AB de Villiers (116) and JP Duminy (123) were responsible for setting the fightback up for South Africa, but given the slow nature of the pitch, it was the efforts of its four-man pace attack that caught the eye and sent the crowd around the ground’s famous brass band into a real frenzy.
While Vernon Philander ensured that Chris Rogers’s disappointing series continued when he trapped him lbw early on, it was the introduction of local hero Wayne Parnell that turned the match squarely in South Africa’s favour. Parnell’s first delivery had Alex Doolan caught behind, and the third did Shaun Marsh in.
Michael Clarke aided Warner in a 40-run stand for the fourth wicket, but when he chipped Philander to short cover, Australia was 81 for 4. Warner continued to blaze away and was unbeaten on 65 from 67 deliveries at the close of play, while Nathan Lyon followed up a five-wicket haul with a combative and successful stint as nightwatchman.
As with the first day, when South Africa threw a couple of wickets away, it should have finished in an even better position after the second. But de Villiers dropped Warner on 43, umpire Kumar Dharmasena gave Lyon not out when he edged a Dale Steyn delivery down the leg side, and then Duminy put down Lyon at gully in the final over of the day. Just how costly it all proves will become apparent when the ball softens on Saturday morning.
South Africa resumed on 214 for 5 in the morning, with the first task being to see off the second new ball. It did it without any trouble, as de Villiers and Duminy patiently waited for the shine to wear off and then opened up in the second half of an extended session.
While the pair added 49 in 17 overs before drinks, it took 60 off the next 12 overs as the spinners returned and were guilty of bowling too short. On such a sluggish pitch, de Villiers and Duminy had all the time in the world to pick the gaps in the field and the band provided the celebratory soundtrack.
With South Africa going to lunch on 323 for 5, Australia was experiencing an unfamiliar feeling. It was the first session that it had failed to take a wicket in since the third Ashes Test at Old Trafford last year, and it ended up being its longest innings in the field this summer.
De Villiers had gone to his 19th Test century shortly before the lunch break, capping an extraordinary run of form. While the pitch was admittedly good for batting, de Villiers made the game look like a backyard hit-out as he toyed with Lyon in particular.
At the other end, Duminy was able to display the sort of silky strokeplay that made him a household name back in 2008-09. He has largely flattered to deceive in the last five years – so much so that he only went to 1000 career Test runs in the course of this innings. The two years, two months and five days since his debut was the longest a South African batsman has taken to reach the landmark since the nation’s readmission into the international game.
As the pitch became ever slower, it was clear that the likeliest way for batsmen to get out was to be caught in front of the wicket, which at one stage led to Clarke employing four short midwickets. However, they weren’t required when de Villiers offered a tame return catch to Lyon (5 for 130) to end a 149-run partnership with Duminy, or when Philander was out the same way to Clarke.
The innings was wrapped up soon after the tea break to everyone’s relief. South Africa’s scoring rate had dropped considerably after de Villiers’s dismissal, turning attention to whether its fast bowlers could extract anything more from the pitch than Australia, who opted not to ask any more of Ryan Harris after lunch.
An enervating spell in the field showed that they could, and set the game up nicely for the weekend when the ground should be fuller and even more vibrant.