Australia 258 & 528-8 dec South Africa 296 & 85-2: Ponting delay undermines Australia

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The Independent Online

A superbly sustained innings from the Australian Brad Hodge had put the hosts in an impregnable position but the closure was delayed until the Victorian had reached 200. When bad light stopped play with 15 minutes remaining the visitors had lost two wickets in Graeme Smith and A B De Villier in 36 overs.

Furious that he had not been given an opportunity to bowl spin at both ends, Ricky Ponting remained on the field for several minutes arguing with the umpires. Yet he had only himself to blame. As the light faded he could have introduced Andrew Symonds's off-breaks. Moreover his belated closure had spared weary visitors an hour of gruelling batting.

Ponting's poor tactics and subsequent surliness spoilt an otherwise impressive performance from the hosts. Australia's middle-order batting has improved considerably. Michael Hussey has been scoring consistently. Now Hodge has made his mark.

Hodge is the most economical of cricketers. Every stroke is played with a short swing. Neither his feet nor his bat moved more than is necessary. After a slow start he gathered momentum and never appeared flustered. He is an old-fashioned player and none the worse for that. After reaching three figures, he picked up the pace to unleash a wide range of powerful and superbly timed strokes.

Overall Australia batted capably on a slow pitch. Smith's bowlers tried hard but lacked versatility.

In reply, De Villiers was snaffled at short leg and Smith was trapped in front by an in-swinger before the light faded and the players were taken from the field.