Michael Clarke's Australians skittled out for 47 their lowest Test total since 1902. Yet, they can beat South Africa at Newlands today
Madness, chaos, calamity and bizarre were the sorts of words thrown about Newlands as the Australians collapsed to 21 for nine. A few others might be added, including inept, irresolute, reckless, feckless and foolish.
But the fact remains that in the space of 18 overs, the Australians surrendered an apparently indomitable position and found themselves fighting for their cricketing lives. As future generations study the scorecard they will wonder what on earth happened on that day in Cape Town when 12 wickets fell for 60 runs in a session and the visitors came within a whisker of scoring the lowest total ever recorded in 2,016 Tests. They will seek answers from witnesses themselves trying to come to terms with the events, trying to explain the inexplicable.
A 100 years ago it was not unknown for a new cricket nation to be dismissed for 20 or 30. Nowadays the players are professionals, fit, seasoned, trained and surrounded by advisors. It is just about conceivable that they might fall for 80 or 90, as did the hosts in their first innings.
But 21 for nine? The South Africans deserve credit for producing one of the most extraordinary rallies the game has known. If nothing else, it tells of a sturdy spirit. Skittled for 96, the Proteas were facing a devastating defeat. Ten overs later, they were well placed to win the match. If the Proteas deserve praise, though, the Australians cannot escape censure. It is not enough to shrug and say "that is cricket" A bowler's primary task is to put batsmen off their games, disturb their usual rhythms. On this occasion, the Australians did their work for them. Batsman after batsman walked to the crease in a fragile state of mind, convinced that the pitch was unplayable.
Far from surviving the new ball thereby removing their opponents' last vestige of hope, most of the batsmen attacked with abandon. One or two were innocent of all charges, but the innings lacked anything resembling a backbone. Shane Watson started the rot with a drive that cleared gully followed by another forcing shot that brought about his downfall. Replays indicated that the delivery was clearing the stumps by several inches, but the openers did not consider a challenge worth the bother. Ricky Ponting did his utmost to survive the new ball, but the sight of him shuffling across the crease did little to suggest longevity. He was trapped in front, though the verdict was marginal.
Not unplayable Phil Hughes was undone by a lifter from Morne Morkel that took the shoulder of his bat and arrived at third slip about grass tip high. The bowling was demanding, but not unplayable. Still, it was not Curtly Ambrose on a green top in Perth or on a skidding deck in Trinidad. Thereafter, the batting was horrible, at least until the last wicket pair reminded their supposed betters of the value of occupying the crease. Michael Clarke drove without moving his feet into position and fell leg before. Admirable as his first innings had been, it ended badly as he backed away and tried to clout a straight ball into the outer. Michael Hussey had the entire tea break to think about his innings, but tried to drive his first ball and was held at gully.
Brad Haddin was the worst offender. Some of his comrades had not put a high enough price on their wickets, but he threw his away by stepping down the pitch to a fast bowler and trying to smack a good length delivery over cover. It was a rotten shot and a sign of the disintegration in the Australian room. The scoreboard said a bit about the track, a lot about the bowlers and even more about the batting.
At close of play * SA 81-1 (G Smith 36 n o, H Amla 29 n o). Need 155 more to win. In the 1st inns, they scored 96 * Aus 47 & 284
Cape town chaos * A total of 23 wickets fell on the day. * Only for the second time in history did fans get to witness parts of all four innings on the same day. * Australia lost six wickets for just eight runs after the tea interval. Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon took the total from 21-9 to 47. * Amidst the chaos, SA's Boucher became the first WK to claim 500 catches