Fiery Ntini wrecks Australia

A fiery spell by Makhaya Ntini allowed the South Africans to take the initiative after the first days play at Perth.

The day began on a positive note for the Australians after South African captain Graeme Smith called incorrectly. Ponting elected to bat on what was a good batting wicket despite some early cloud cover. However, the innings began disastrously as Matthew Hayden top-edged an ambitious pull shot from the second ball he faced which saw Rudolph, in the team for the injured Kallis, take a juggling catch and gave Ntini the first of five wickets for the day.

Any joy from that early wicket was quickly dispelled by Ponting who, after a rude welcome to the crease involving a collision with Ntini mid-pitch and a blow to the helmet, played some glorious strokes to ease the pressure for the Australians. All the South African bowlers bar Nel were guilty of bowling too short to Ponting, allowing him to play his favourite pull and hook shots. At the other end Langer, who was finding it difficult to find the middle of the bat, played and missed numerous times.

The post-lunch session saw the South Africans claw it back from a marauding Ponting. Langer was first to go, playing an almost identical shot to Hayden and being caught at mid-off by Smith and then Ponting was wonderfully set up by the ever accurate Pollock. After bowling a series of length balls outside off, Pollock speared one in at the stumps to catch Ponting playing across the line to be plumb LBW. However, the new faces of Brad Hodge and the Bradman-esque Michael Hussey played carefully to steer Australia out of danger before opening up and playing their strokes. Hodge received a stroke of luck on 3, when a difficult chance was dropped by South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher. At the Tea interval the Australians were 3 for 175 and looking good for another huge total when Ntini intervened with a spectacular 13 ball spell where he took the wickets of Hussey, Hodge and Gilchrist. Hussey’s wicket was due to a brilliant diving catch from Charl Langeveldt, diving full length to pluck the ball inches above the ground. With the fall of Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds, clean bowled by Andre Nel, the Aussies were in dire straits at 7 for 210. Shane Warne and Brett Lee put up a good fight for 40 deliveries, adding 33 runs before Warne was trapped in front by the expensive Langeveldt. Nel then took the wickets of Bracken and McGrath in consecutive deliveries to wrap up the Australian innings at a below-par 258.

The South African openers, the prodigious AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith, had to face a difficult period of seven overs before the close. However, they showed they were in an aggressive mood, de Villiers magnificently pulling the first delivery from McGrath for four. Brett Lee bowled with considerable pace getting one ball to alarmingly rise at de Villiers and another to bounce clean over ’keeper Gilchrist’s head for four byes. However, neither batsmen was really tested in the short session, with the South Africans ending the day on 38 for no wicket.

The day undoubtedly belonged to South Africa, who surprised everyone with their professional performance, both with bat and ball. Despite their poor form in the warm-up games, going down by an innings to a weak Western Australian side, they showed that they can compete with the best. The Australians on the other hand will be very disappointed, with several batsmen making good starts but throwing it away with some injudicious shot selection. The stage is set for a fascinating second days play, with the Australians looking to bowl South Africa out cheaply and South Africa looking to get that all-important first innings lead.

Australia 258
Ponting 71, Hodge 41
Ntini 5-64, Nel 3-29

South Africa 38-0
de Villiers 14*, Smith 18*
McGrath 0-18, Lee 0-15

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