South Africa in control

Fighting knocks by Ashwell Prince and Jacques Kallis put South Africa in control on the first evening of the 3rd Test against Australia. The day did not start well for either team as the entire first session of play was washed out. With play due to begin after lunch in overcast conditions and on an unusually grassy SCG pitch, South African captain denied Ricky Ponting a fairytale start to his 100th Test for Australia by calling correctly for the first time in the series and electing to bat in difficult conditions. Both camps made changes to their teams with Langer coming in for Jaques at the top of the order for Australia while the South Africans gave a debut to off-spinner Johan Botha in place of Nicky Boje and brought in Charl Langeveldt to replace the injured Makhaya Ntini.

The South African openers began cautiously with both McGrath and Lee extracting significant movement both off the pitch and in the air. There were a few nervous moments as the ball beat the bat time and time again and with several close LBW shouts. Ponting’s less than perfect landmark Test continued when he dropped a regulation catch in the slips off the bowling of McGrath before Lee struck in his third over with an outswinger that AB de Villiers managed to get a touch to on the way through to Gilchrist. De Villiers looked unhappy with the decision although replays showed that bat hit pad at the same time as the bat hit the ball. Meanwhile, Gilchrist was having trouble as well with the difficult conditions with the ball swinging away very late on a few occasions, twice going to the boundary for four byes.

The arrival of Herschelle Gibbs to the crease brought a renewed urgency to the South African batting effort. Both batsmen decided they would go for their shots rather than be bogged down by the conditions. Gibbs in particular took the sword to the attack, crashing the ball through the covers on numerous occasions. Smith was no less attacking, taking full toll on any loose deliveries. He had luck on his side with a confident caught-behind shout off the bowling of Symonds turned down and a very difficult chance down the leg side dropped by Gilchrist. However, Gibbs fell going for one shot too many. His attempted off drive was nowhere near the ball as McGrath nipped one back in through the gate to make a mess of the stumps. The next man in was the South African trump card, Jacques Kallis. Recently usurped as number one batsman in the world by Ricky Ponting, Kallis began in a circumspect fashion, searching for form in less than ideal conditions. At the other end, Smith continued on his merry way and looked to be shaping up for another big century when Lee trapped him in front with a fast, inswinging delivery. Smith departed after yet another start, having been dismissed between 22 and 39 in every innings of the series. South African number five Ashwell Prince began confidently without taking charge, looking to protect his wicket against a strong bowling outfit.

Australia began the extended post-tea session looking for more wickets on a surface that all the seamers were finding helpful while the South Africans looked to survive until the end of the day. Prince and Kallis started quietly although Prince showed he had learned from his 120 ball stay on the last day at Melbourne, playing Warne and MacGill confidently. Early on, both batsmen were content to wait for the loose delivery without searching for boundaries although as the day wore on they looked to attack all the bowlers, Kallis in particular playing several excellent pull-shots including one to bring up a fighting 50. The spinners weren’t finding the surface to their liking and Ponting was forced to bowl his seamers for long spells, even giving Hussey a spell with his medium pacers. Warne and MacGill combined bowled 19 overs for 77 runs, an unusual figure for a Sydney wicket notorious for being spin-friendly. As the long session wore on, the batsmen grew in confidence, Prince bringing up an excellent fifty and Kallis looking as solid as ever. With the light fading in the latter stages despite the use of the floodlights, Ponting was forced to bowl his leg-spinners in tandem although both caused few alarms. South Africa ended the day only three wickets down for 230 and looking set for a big first innings score.

The Australians will surely be ruing the inclusion of only two specialist seam bowlers although the decision was understandable given the reputation of the SCG. However, they could not make the most of excellent seam bowling conditions with only two seamers and a part-timer. The South Africans will be looking to establish a big first innings while Kallis will be looking for his 23rd Test ton. On the occasion of the Aussie skipper’s 100th Test match, the day undoubtedly belonged to the South Africa.

South Africa – 230/3
Kallis 80*, Prince 62*
Lee 2/42, McGrath 1/39

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