If ever cricket needed a young bloke to walk out and start carting the ball around it was at this moment. Phil Hughes responded with a pugnacious innings on a notably docile track. Aided by a sturdy partner, assisted by a listless opponent, the perky newcomer helped the Australians to dominate the opening hours. Dismayed to lose a fifth successive toss, their opponents did not wake up till mid-afternoon and then were scorned by Hot Spot, referrals and the other paraphernalia of the contemporary game.
Hughes' strategy in the nineties said much about him. Upon reaching 89 he faced Paul Harris. Unconcerned he dinked the lofty lefty over mid on – 93. Harris tossed up and the banana farmer had another crack and collected a six – 99. Time to pause for thought? Not a bit of it. Harris summoned his fieldsmen, Hughes took the apple and raised his arms before his blow had landed in the fourth row.
Hughes is fearless and has quick wits, feet and hands. He watches balls closely, defends on the back foot and pounces on anything loose. He drove confidently, straight and through the covers, and used the face of the bat to glide boundaries. Simon Katich was a battleship beside a racing yacht. Relying on cuts and clips, he kept the scoreboard moving without giving its operators heart-attacks. Along the way he needed more luck than his partner.
Certainly he was helped by South Africa's shoddy work with the ball and Graeme Smith's reluctance to place a second slip but luck also favoured him as Hot Spot failed to detect a snick. Later Michael Hussey was given out leg before, urged to invite the third umpire to adjudicate and reprieved as the ball had landed an inch off line.
South Africa did deserve fortune's frown. The hosts barely landed a blow in the morning. Dale Steyn sent down five tepid overs before lunch and Morne Morkel was unable to find a length. His second over contained three half-volleys and a bumper that soared over the keeper's head. Seventeen off an over on the first morning of a critical Test match was not the sort of cricket expected from an ambitious side. Within an hour the ball had been thrown to Jacques Kallis and Harris.
Hughes fed on the tripe, flashing occasionally, forgetting about mistakes. Finally he departed, held in the gully as he took liberties with Kallis. He had faced 151 balls and struck 19 boundaries and two resounding sixes.
Ricky Ponting fell as he lifted Harris to deep mid-off and Michael Clarke, nursing a sore back, was deceived by a fuller delivery. Katich collected his seventh Test hundred before steering to slip and it was left to Michael Hussey and Marcus North to negotiate a torrid final hour as the hosts woke up.