Cricket: Proteas get their runs off Pat

Meanwhile, John Benaud reports on the Test match that was and still is
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The Independent Online
IT WAS no shock that South Africa flayed 517 off the dampened firepower of Australia when their Test series resumed at the Adelaide Oval, simply because the Proteas decided to play an extra batsman in place of their injured champion fast bowler Allan Donald. Pat Symcox no less, coming in at No 11.

The sense of such a selection policy remains clouded; this is the Third, and final Test of the series and Australia hold a one-nil lead; if South Africa were true to their word and desperate to square the series, then surely common sense demanded an extra bowler, either the spinner Paul Adams or the rookie quick, Makhaya Ntini.

Time will tell, although by stumps on the second day Australia were looking ominously secure, 71 on the historic scoreboard and only the out-of-form Matthew Elliott gone, a slant-bat edge flying to Jacques Kallis at third slip.

The state of play was a numerical reminder to the South Africans that they had experienced very little trouble recovering from a slightly precarious 350 for 7 to 517 all out for one very good reason - the pitch is perfectly flat.

Yet pre-match, Tony Greig strangely offered the television audience doubts about its quality; he mentioned "undulations". Perhaps he was still digesting the news from Sabina Park, influenced by it even. He should have left it to his co-commentator Richie Benaud, who later offered this perspective on Sabina Park's most historic moment: "Imagine," he said, "when Brian Lara's daughter grows up and enquires, 'Daddy, where did you captain the West Indies for the first time? 'and he replies, 'Sabina Park dear... and the Test only lasted 10 overs'."

This Adelaide Test seems destined to go on for five days, unless there is an outbreak of sheer carelessness among batsmen. The great bowlers are in the grandstand: Donald (buttock strain) was joined by Australia's Glenn McGrath (stomach muscle tear), Jason Gillespie (leg problems) and Paul Reiffel (broken finger). How much longer can the ICC rubber-stamp these ridiculously taxing international programmes?

Not so long ago the three Australians were the foundation of Mark Taylor's pace attack. Their replacements, Andy Bichel and Michael Kasprowicz, released pressure rather than created it and bowled so waywardly they were two of three centurions in the South African innings.

Remarkably, the other player to achieve a century was also a bowler. Fancy that, 500 runs on the board and no batsman scoring a century. In fact, it was a half-century that caught the eye - Symcox's came off only 40 balls.

With Brian McMillan, he added a record South African 10th-wicket stand of 74, and much of it crackerjack stuff from the third new ball. Although the fight had long gone from Australia, such adventure earlier in the day might have provided more scope for the skinny South African bowling strength to dismiss Australia twice. History shows that at Adelaide in 1964 Trevor Goddard's South Africans scored 595 and beat Australia by 10 wickets before lunch on the fifth day; it was possible because Eddie Barlow made 201 and Graeme Pollock 175 and they put on 341 in 283 minutes. They say to win a Test match bowlers have to take 20 wickets; but batsmen have to give them time to do their dirty work.

And the third centurion? Well, he deserves a mention, because we may hear more of him in future; his name is Stuart MacGill, Australian Test player No 374. Appropriately he is a leg-spinner, so the tradition continues, although he is flattish beer to Shane Warne's champagne. But he spun enough to suggest a small sack of Test wickets is not beyond his reach.

Naturally, he lacks the subtle variations of Warne, and he doesn't bowl with the top-spin that allows Warne to make the ball leap, then spit sideways. But he has quite a good wrong'un, and the wicket of Kallis came from a copy of Warne's "zooter", the one that seems to come out of the end of the fingers and float at the batsman.

The South Africans remain an enigma; upon their return to international cricket in 1992 their toughness was noteworthy; this tour there has been a carefully crafted image of good-natured "we're just average guys here to do our best". Beyond the PR, I believe they expected they had the Australians' measure.

Their temperament was sorely tested after the Sydney Test loss and in tatters after their drubbing in the World Series one-day finals, where they won all the preliminaries but then appeared to "choke" in the play- offs.

There are signs in their selections and tactics that they don't "back themselves"; surprising because they are a mature team. Perhaps they are yet to adjust to the toughness of the international game from which they were absent for so long. A win here could instantly change that.