South Africa began the first Test looking every inch the world’s best team. They ended it cornered, scrapping unattractively to secure a draw, having weathered a sustained and significant resurgence by Australia over the final two days. The loss of Saturday’s play due to persistent rain deprived the match of enough time for a result given the
benign nature of curator Kevin Mitchell’s pitch, but Michael Clarke’s team will depart Brisbane with the kind of spring in their step that England took from the Gabba after a similar recovery at the outset of the 2010-11 Ashes. Such confidence will be derived as much from how James Pattinson and Peter Siddle discomforted South Africa’s batsmen on the final afternoon as from the way Clarke, Ed Cowan and Michael Hussey dominated the visiting bowlers.
A tense afternoon characterised by a series of frenzied Australian appeals and grim South African occupation, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis all flirted frequently with danger while the hosts dictated terms. Pattinson and Siddle frequently pushed the line of acceptable aggression with their words and appeals, but did no more than Clarke had predicted before the match.
A lone exception to the prolonged passage of Australian aggression and South African diffidence was a two-over period before tea in which the spinner Nathan Lyon was clumped for 26, but even he recovered in the final session with a neat spell that returned the wickets of Kallis and Jacques Rudolph.
Clarke had declared with a lead of 115 after he reached the highest individual score in Tests at the Gabba. His unbeaten 259 featured some rollicking shots on resumption, lofting drives down the ground and heaving over midwicket with plenty of force. Hussey’s advance to a hundred was a little more fraught, and on 99 he escaped being lbw on South Africa’s referral via the thinnest of edges picked up on Hot-Spot.
The pitch was starting to show the very first signs of deterioration, Morne Morkel extracting some variable bounce to strike Clarke in the ribs and on the back, while Vernon Philander gained some disconcerting seam movement. After Hussey lifted Morkel to cover – the first wicket to a bowler in 120 overs – Matthew Wade took his time getting in, and was beaten several times. However once he had his sighter, Wade unleashed a trio of rasping offside strokes, the first a drive that might have decapitated Rory Kleinveldt, and hurried Clarke towards his declaration.
South Africa’s response to the scenario confronting them was uncertain. Pattinson found his rhythm and some early swing, and it was the combination of speed and movement that drew Petersen into an ambitious drive that resulted in a thin edge through to Wade. Smith battled through the session, snicking Siddle just short of the slips, and Amla was grateful for the third wicket off a no-ball in the match when he dragged Pattinson onto the stumps but was reprieved by Asad Rauf’s referral.
The afternoon began with a tense and occasionally ill-tempered duel between Pattinson and Smith. Pattinson was irritated when Amla survived a caught behind appeal that was proven faulty by a decision review, and was further annoyed by Smith pulling away from one delivery as a bird flew across his eye-line. There was plenty of chatter over the next two overs before the bowler had the final say by coaxing a sliced drive that was well held by Rob Quiney at gully.
At the other end Australia lost their second and final review when Ben Hilfenhaus thought he had Kallis caught behind from an inside edge, but replays showed a large gap between bat and pad. The loss of the two referrals seemed costly when the hosts went up in unison for a caught behind appeal by Siddle against Amla, but again the video evidence of an edge was lacking.
Kallis survived another appeal from Siddle when avoiding a short ball that passed desperately close to his gloves, and Lyon’s entry to the attack brought a brief flurry as both Kallis and Amla lofted down the ground with skill. Amla would lose his wicket shortly before tea when he pushed Siddle to Hussey at short cover, but it seemed at the interval that the South Africans had done enough to stave off the prospect of defeat.
AB de Villiers and Kallis held out for another hour but made very few runs. Lyon returned to bowl with the batsmen in their shells, and was rewarded when he drifted the ball across Kallis, finding the edge and allowing Clarke clasp a neat one-hander at slip. Next over Rudolph eluded a raucous lbw appeal because Siddle’s delivery had pitched outside leg stump, and Australia’s frustration showed they felt they were still a chance.
Ultimately Rudolph survived until just before the final hour was due to commence, at which time he was lbw to a Lyon back-spinner that pinned him on the back pad. This wicket encouraged Clarke to push the match into its last 60 minutes. The fact he was able to do so was a considerable moral victory for Australia, just as the final two days had been.