It’s almost 44 years since Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock led South Africa to victory in a Test series against Australia on home soil but even the combined talents of two of the greatest batsmen the game has ever seen might not be enough to save them now in their latest attempt to end that barren run.
After Mitchell Johnson had picked up where he left off yesterday to wrap up the Proteas’ first innings and establish a commanding lead for Australia, a combination of aggressive batting and poor fielding conspired to leave Graeme Smith’s side trailing by 479 with two full days still to play.
David Warner was the main recipient as the opening batsman took advantage of being dropped three times to record his sixth Test century in a stand of more than 200 with debutant Alex Doolan. Asked afterwards if he had ever had so many let-offs, Warner said: “Probably in backyard cricket – it’s good have a little luck on your side. It was a hard wicket to play defensively on, so I felt it was better to play aggressively.”
South Africa are unbeaten since losing to Australia in 2008-09 – a run of 14 successive series – and came into this latest showdown with a healthy lead in the Test rankings and seven wins from their last eight series. Australia occupied the No 1 position for a record 74 months between June 2003 and August 2009 but with Johnson now leading the Baggy Green revival, their return to the summit could only be a matter of time.
They have yet to lose in South Africa since the Proteas were readmitted to the international scene in 1992, with 1970’s 4-0 whitewash featuring Pollock and Richards and a 3-1 victory five years earlier the home side’s only victories to date.
Only A B de Villiers could offer any resistance to Johnson’s hostility with the ball yesterday as he battled his way to 91 from 241 balls to guide them past the follow-on target before he was the ninth wicket to fall trying to hit over mid-off. The dismissal of Morne Morkel to wrap up the innings gave the Queenslander figures of 7 for 68 – his fourth five-wicket haul or better in his last six matches.
That also took Johnson up to 249 Test wickets in total – past Richie Benaud on Australia’s all-time list with Jason Gillespie’s 259 next in his sights.
Like Johnson, Warner’s rehabilitation from outcast to a mainstay of the side has been swift. Since been banished to an ‘A’ tour of Zimbabwe after hitting England batsman Joe Root in a Birmingham bar last summer, Warner has now scored three centuries and boasts an average of 46.3 from his last nine Tests.
But after Dale Steyn clean bowled Chris Rogers in his first over, South Africa will know they allowed Australia off the hook. Warner was dropped twice in the 20s, once by substitute fielder Dean Elgar running in from long-leg from a faulty pull at Vernon Philander and then head-high at slip by Alviro Petersen off Morkel.
Smith was also unable to hold on to another tough chance to see off Warner, who profited to reach his 118-ball hundred when he hit his 13th four to go with two sixes. By then Doolan, after an especially watchful start, also had a maiden Test 50.
Warner eventually departed via a sharp edge off slow left-armer Robin Peterson to Smith at slip, and Doolan fell short of a hundred when he nicked a short one behind trying to cut part-time off-spinner J P Duminy.
“We know the declaration cannot be too far away and if we can get through the new ball, then it does get notably easier,” said De Villiers of South Africa’s uphill challenge. “We are going to need a big fight tomorrow and on day five.”