Ponting and Nel

South Africa took a late hold on proceedings on Boxing Day with a flurry of wickets in the final session, turning things around after Australia had the best of play before tea.

The start of play was delayed in the morning after fears of severe cracking prompted the groundsman to water the pitch, and the umpires decided that the resulting damp patches presented too much risk for play to begin on time. Australia won the toss and elected to bat though, and play began after half an hour.The life expected in the wicket was visible immediately, with Pollock finding some swing and Ntini significant seam movement and troubling both openers.

The opening breakthrough took just a couple of overs, as the debutant Phil Jaques deflected a few deliveries away to leg with the in-swing, prompting Graeme Smith to put in a short leg fielder. The trap worked perfectly, and Jaques’ first test innings ended on two runs, caught by Rudolph off the bowling of Pollock.

Ponting and Hayden came together at the crease and made clear their simple intent of survival. Matthew Hayden in particular was extremely circumspect, hardly playing a stroke in anger except when Ntini bowled him a solitary full toss. All round, the South African bowlers were solid but unimpressive in helpful conditions, and Ntini in particular was wayward with his length and was punished by Ponting when he dropped short.

Jacques Kallis was a surprise early introduction into the attack, but proved fairly effective with the ball swinging, and very nearly had Ricky Ponting caught with a miscued pull shot at midwicket, but Andre Nel spilt the catch. After a short while negotiating Kallis and Pollock, the Australian batsmen began to look more comfortable at the crease, as the bright sun dried the wicket and the ball became older.

Hayden and Ponting progressed to the end of a shortened morning session without incident, and after the break became increasingly aggressive, with Ponting particularly difficult to tie down as he cruised to yet another half century in what has been a successful home summer. Hayden too brought up his 50, and the partnership up to 150 before Pollock finally struck, removing Hayden.

Hodge recieved a massive ovation as he came out to bat on his home ground, and he and Ponting survived to tea, with Australia in a strong position. The fall of Hodge soon after tea exposed the middle order though, and with cloud cover coming in and the pitch still misbehaving occasionally, batting was difficult for new batsmen. Ponting brought up his sixth test century of the year with a flick to fine leg, but Andre Nel managed to remove him for 117, and by doing so he began a rapid decline late in the day for Australia.

Ponting’s dismissal was followed the next delivery by the fall of Symonds, edging one that seamed away slightly, and Gilchrist gave Nel his third wicket by guiding an innocuous ball to Gibbs in the gully soon after. Suddenly, Australia were six down for 213 and had lost five wickets in relatively short time, with the tail exposed. Shane Warne began a brief but entertaining battle with Andre Nel, flashing him through the off-side for a boundary before skying a simple catch to give Nel his fourth scalp, and while Brett Lee sought to survive the new ball and see Australia to stumps with Hussey at the other end, he fell in the final over of the day to Ntini, leaving Australia well and truly on the back foot at stumps.

With the chance of continued bowler-friendly conditions tomorrow, Australia will feel that anything close to 300 is a passable total, but will be disappointed at losing 7 wickets for just 85 runs in the closing stages of the opening day.

Australia – 8/239
Ricky Ponting 117, Matthew Hayden 65
Andre Nel 4/58, Shaun Pollock 3/46

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