Warne, Boucher define a classic

In one of the finest moments of his career, Shane Warne defied a brilliant Mark Boucher rearguard and the closing darkness to seal the second test and the series for Australia on the final afternoon at Kingsmead.

Australia began the final day needing a full quota of ten wickets to achieve victory, and for some time it appeared an unlikely quest. Graeme Smith and AB De Villiers formed a rock-solid opening stand, mixing defence with occasional attack to keep Australia on the back foot and victory in sight, despite some excellent bowling. Brett Lee was on fire in the morning session, bowling with pace and control, and Clark and Kasprowicz rotated with him through the first hour in the search for a key opening wicket.

Despite the strong beginning, South Africa were never allowed to be comfortable, as the danger of Shane Warne’s inevitable opening spell hung over proceedings. With Ricky Ponting absent from the field with suspected food poisoning, it was left to Adam Gilchrist to make the call of when the champion spinner should bowl, and while he held Warne back longer than many expected, the change worked almost immediately. Warne showed the first of the big drift that he would be getting for the entire day as he drew De Villiers forward, before spinning it past the bat and into the waiting gloves of Gilchrist for a classic leg-spinner’s stumping dismissal.

With the innings expected to last 105 overs with light permitting, South Africa still had 90 to go after the first wicket fell, and just 8 Warne deliveries later the next one followed. Smith might have been a little unlucky, as his missed sweep shot appeared to strike his arm and not the edge of the bat, but the catch was handed to Langer close on the leg-side and he made no mistake.

Suddenly in danger of a batting collapse, South Africa dug in and looked to see the bowling off until lunch, but Warne wouldn’t be denied and the sweep shot once again proved a bad idea. Warne tossed up a full delivery to Kallis, and South Africa’s best batsmen attempted to deposit it through the leg-side only to miss the ball, and he was struck on the back pad in front of off-stump. It was another potentially dubious decision, but suddenly Warne had three wickets in just nine pre-lunch overs. The situation went from bad to worse in the very next over as Stuart Clark capitalised on the pressure at the other end with a perfect rising delivery on a pitch that was beginning to bounce erratically, and Herschelle Gibbs could only glove the ball to first slip and that man again – Shane Warne. Lunch was called with South Africa four wickets down and seemingly sliding toward a defeat.

Lunch proved the catalyst for a South Africa revival however, as Jacques Rudolph sought to repeat his brilliant match-saving effort at Perth in December, with Ashwell Prince at the other end. Warne settled in after the break for another marathon spell, but Rudolph has been the most assured South African against him for all the tests this season, and he continued to appear at ease against anything Warne could bowl.

The main danger was now offered by Clark, who was using his height and natural bounce to take advantage of the flaws in the 5th day wicket, with more than one delivery going right through the surface and behaving unpredictably. Adam Gilchrist stacked the leg-side field with catchers in front of square, and it was the psychological threat of this variable bounce and the complimentary field that undid Prince in the end. The ball struck his glove and then his forearm as he looked to duck under a short-of-a-length delivery that bounced fractionally less than expected, and the ball popped up to Michael Hussey at midwicket for a simple catch.

Mark Boucher strode to the crease at 5/146, with over 50 overs remaining in the day, and proceeded to play one of the best innings of his career. As wickets fell at the other end he defied Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark through testing spells, and on any other day might well have saved his team. He began solidly against Clark and Warne alongide Rudolph, but after ten grueling overs of defence it was Rudolph who became the next victim of Warne’s inexorable procession. Having played with assurance outside his off-stump all innings despite Warne’s sharp turn, he looked to pad away yet another delivery with his bat raised high. This time however, Warne found some extra bounce and the ball balooned up off the pad onto Rudolph’s gloves, and down into the waiting hands of Langer.

With Clark’s threatening bounce now seen off for a short time, it was Brett Lee’s turn to shine with a testing spell of reverse-swing bowling, and six down quickly became seven. He executed the classic express bowler’s dismissal, pushing Shaun Pollock back with a series of brutal bouncers, before a length delivery outside off-stump swung late to penetrate the defences of a tentative Pollock, clean bowling him.

Once again South Africa seemed all but finished, but slowly approaching cloud cover and the strong counter-attack of Nicky Boje either side of tea revived the contest. Boje played with almost reckless abandon, seeking to blast all the bowlers and push back the field. Gilchrist attacked relentlessly with the target well out of reach, but Boje’s attack proved the necessary step to stop the flow of wickets, as he seemed in less danger striking boundaries than simply seeking to survive. Boje took advantage of the spread field to the tune of nine boundaries and 48 runs before he swung one time too many and hit a Kasprowicz delivery straight to short-cover and was dismissed. He had batted with Boucher for a full 20 overs, and when the 8th wicket went down the dimming light had given South Africa fresh hope, despite almost 30 overs still remaining to be bowled on the day.

The new ball was taken soon after Boje’s dismissal, and immediately it provoked a reaction from the crowd and the batsman, who took every opportunity to peer to the heavens and complain to the umpires about the dimming light. For six overs with the new ball Lee and Clark took the bowling duties and gave Warne a deserved rest, but they could not penetrate the solid defence of Mark Boucher, who protected Nel when possible, and left him with the less dangerous Clark when not. After six overs, Adam Gilchrist’s constant queries were met with the suggestion that he abandon the pace bowlers at both ends, and he promptly handed the ball to Andrew Symonds and the final period of the match began.

Gilchrist immediately brought the entire field around the bat, dismissing all consideration of runs conceded in search of the final wickets as the light dimmed every over. Boucher once again played the role of general, offering himself to the more dangerous Warne and leaving Andre Nel to face Symonds’ medium pace. Adam Gilchrist was equal to the tactical challenge though, and responded by removing Warne from the attack and bowling Michael Hussey. Despite Boucher’s best efforts he could only manage a boundary off Hussey’s over, and Warne returned at the other end with six balls to bowl to Nel.

Every ball was an epic in and of itself from that point, as the end of each over brought further consultation between the umpires and greater hope for South Africa of holding on. No bad light offer was made with only the slow bowlers in operation though, and Nel was forced to face Warne. He saw off one over from the spinner without trouble, but the breakthrough almost came in the next over as Symonds returned, bowling spin this time. A Boucher flick appeared to strike the edge and slip between the hands of Langer at leg-slip, but it went too quickly and raced away for a boundary.

Finally, after 46 deliveries of stubborn resistance, Andre Nel gave a chance good enough for someone to take, edging a big-bouncing Warne leg-break to Hayden at slip, who made no mistake. Once again the tables turned back to Australia, as the umpires appeared to have settled on allowing play to continue as long as the spinners bowled, and only one wicket was now needed for victory.

Warne began with the flipper to Ntini, who kept it out, but the next ball clipped the glove only to have Adam Gilchrist put down a tough chance and keep local hopes alive. Symonds supported Warne with a clever over, as he varied flight and pace to ensure that Boucher could not get off strike, and Warne was offered six more to Ntini.

Once again Warne’s over was an eventful one, but frustrating for Australia as the clock continued to tick, and the overs remaining drifted into single figures. Warne firstly appeared to have Ntini caught behind off a thin edge, but neither Adam Gilchrist or the umpire picked up on it, and then a few deliveries later the number 11 lost his cool with wild swing at a googly that bounced over the top of middle-stump.

One more Symonds over followed and while Boucher brought up his half-century with a boundary he could still not manage a single, and Warne was left to bowl his 36th over of the innings to Ntini. Umpires Bucknor and Doctrove engaged in another lengthy consultation before the over began, but the ball was eventually handed to Warne, and five balls later he won the match for Australia with another googly. This time Ntini didn’t offer a shot, and the ball struck his pad just outside off-stump, turning in. It might have bounced over off, but with no shot offered and eight men around the bat screaming an appeal, Doctrove gave it quickly and South Africa trudged off in disbelief at another test loss to Australia.

The final moments of the test were memorable ones, with the ground shrouded in gloom and massive hoardes of Australian fielders clustered around the batsmen in a scene reminiscent of the days of Derek Underwood bowling on wet wickets. With a screamed appeal coming almost every delivery, the umpires were under as much pressure as the players, and the modest crowd and home audiences worldwide were kept on the edge of their seats. In the end it was the brilliance of Warne that won out, but it was the fight of Boucher, Nel and Boje that made the game a classic.

Australia 369
Ricky Ponting 103, Michael Hussey 75
Makhaya Ntini 3/81, Andre Nel 3/83

South Africa 267
Jacques Kallis 114, AB De Villiers 50
Brett Lee 5/69, Stuart Clark 2/37

Australia 4/307 dec.
Ricky Ponting 116, Matthew Hayden 102
Nicky Boje 2/87, Shaun Pollock 1/55

South Africa 297
Mark Boucher 51*, Nicky Boje 48
Shane Warne 6/86, Stuart Clark 2/46

Australia win by 112 runs.
Australia lead the three test series 2-0

Cricket Web Player of the Match
Ricky Ponting
103 & 116

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