Game on at the WACA! South Africa roared back into contention in this first Test, despite losing Dale Steyn to injury, with Vernon Philander taking on the mantle of leading South Africa’s fightback in this first Test here at the WACA.
Philander, who spoke about having to get “nasty” in the build-up to this series opener, certainly rolled up his sleeves after Steyn left for hospital to attend to his shoulder mid-way through the first session.
South Africa’s opening bowler hit a consistent full length and was duly rewarded with two lbw decisions – both victims being the Marsh brothers (Shaun and Mitch) – and then returned to wrap up the tail by getting tailenders Josh Hazelwood and Nathan Lyon caught in the slip cordon off consecutive balls to close off the Australian innings.
But it was not all Philander though. Debutant left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj deserves plenty of the plaudits for the way he stuck to his task along with young Kagiso Rabada, who simply got better the longer he bowled.
Australia’s middle-to-lower order crumbled in this delectable onslaught of swing, seam, pace and spin from the Proteas as the hosts lost their last six wickets for just 63 runs during this middle session. So, instead of looking to press home the advantage of being 181/3 at one stage in response to South Africa’s 242 all out on the first day, the Aussies now only have a slender lead of just two runs.
The Aussies will, however, point to their captain Steve Smith’s dismissal prior to the lunch interval as the reason for their collapse when their skipper went charging down the pitch to Maharaj only for the ball to wrap him on his pads. Umpire Aleem Dar upheld the South Africans appeal, much to the dismay of Smith, who immediately reviewed the decision. Television replays showed that the ball was clipping the leg-stump and Smith was given out for a duck.
The Australian skipper was incensed with the decision, and visibly showed his frustration which could later earn him a censure, but ultimately Maharaj had his first Test wicket which he celebrated with gusto. He had reason to celebrate again later when he removed both Phil Nevill (23) and Australia’s bowling hero from the first day Mitchell Starc (0) to finish with the impressive figures of 3/56.
Maharaj’s performance certainly vindicated national selection convenor Linda Zondi’s brave decision to opt for Maharaj, even though the Dolphins star is the first spinner to make his Test debut at the WACA in the ground’s 46-year history.