Smith's patience pays as Australia lash out

South Africa 451-9 dec. Australia 54-3
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The Independent Online

South Africa's attritional approach to the Sydney Test has provoked a rash response from their hosts. After spending 663 feisty minutes in the field, the Australians marched to the crease and in a blaze of ill-advised strokes lost three wickets for next to nothing. Frustration found its outlet in a cavalier approach that imperilled their position. The last cut was the deepest, a third wicket lost to a combination of alert tactics and inept batting.

Naturally the visitors were delighted to find themselves on top. Graeme Smith, their captain, must have been especially satisfied. Over the past few weeks he has been roundly attacked, mostly by his Australian counterpart, Ricky Ponting, and Shane Warne, whose temper has not been improved by his prospective divorce settlement. Smith had a well-deserved last laugh. In the day's final over he spread the field to give Brad Hodge the strike, placed a short leg, ordered Andre Nel to go round the wicket and smiled as a bouncer was lamely parried. It was a fine piece of thinking.

Although everyone contributed to the performance, significant roles were played by a trio of emerging cricketers - Ashwell Prince, Johan Botha and Charl Langeveldt. They challenged the Australians in their own backyard. It was not always pretty but it was effective.

Resisting an impassioned counter-attack from their hosts, Prince and Jacques Kallis took their partnership to 219 before the senior man pulled to long leg. Inconvenienced by a sore elbow, Kallis had reached his 23rd Test century off his 266th ball. As usual he batted with measured mastery. Prince was livelier, darting down the pitch to drive or else waiting till the ball was under his chin to defend. A respected player forced to work his way upwards while lesser men were showered with gifts and spoilt with opportunity, he captains his provincial side. Here he tapped his 214th delivery wide of mid-on and scampered his 100th run.

Prince and Mark Boucher were unlucky to lose their wickets as the umpires were subjected to more concerted appeals from a fraught opponent. Prince ignored a ball spinning from the pitch's edge and Boucher swept on to the ground. Denied 10 wickets in the Ashes series, Warne senses that the worm has turned. Trouble waits around the corner. Instead Brett Lee, much the best of the bowlers, was reprimanded.

South Africa's innings was sustained by lively knocks from Shaun Pollock and Botha. Until recently the latter was a routine medium-pacer. Now he looks every inch a Test cricketer. If he bowls half as well as he batted he will cause a few headaches.

Eventually Smith declared and then the fun began. Not so long ago Langeveldt was a prison warder. A fortnight ago he bowled poorly in Perth. Now he charged to the crease and rejoiced as Matthew Hayden drove loosely and Justin Langer pulled optimistically. Both edged on to their stumps. Then came Hodge's embarrassment.

Prince, Botha and Langeveldt have alarmed their opponents. Kallis and Pollock also pulled their weight. Australia have their backs to the wall.

* An umpire suspended the former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly yesterday for repeatedly straying into the danger area of the pitch in his follow-through during a match between Bengal and Tamil Nadu in Calcutta. Ganguly, who was sacked as India's captain and dropped from the one-day side after a row with the coach Greg Chappell, was recalled for the three-Test tour of Pakistan which starts this week.