We said last week that test cricket was the new black. After events yesterday in Perth, we are even more convinced that that's so.
Australia rolled South Africa on the first day at the WACA for a mere 225 after Graeme Smith won the toss and elected to bat. The Proteas simply failed (apart from Faf du Plessis, who now averages over 200 in test cricket!) to cope with the bouncier Perth pitch. Australia ended the first day at 33 for two.
Yesterday morning (Perth time) the Channel Nine commentary team was bouyant. Australia would knock off the deficit, and build a huge first innings lead they said. Ricky Ponting would cash in in his final test match. And Michael Clarke's golden run with the bat would continue.
Unfortunately, no-one told the South African fast bowlers what the script was. In barely half an hour they had knocked over David Warner, night watchman Nathan Lyon then Ponting and Clarke to leave Australia reeling at 47 for six. Ian Healy, Mark Nicholas and co were left lauding the brilliance of the shots that got the Australian batsmen out! Australia was eventually dismissed for 163, conceding a deficit of 72; a far cry from the promised massive first innings advantage.
South Africa went to tea at 24 without loss. Alviro Petersen departed soon afterwards, to one of the best caught-and-bowleds we have ever seen, by Mitchell Johnson. Petersen was squared up by a short ball from Johnson, and the ball lobbed up. Johnson checked his follow-through, changed direction, ran and then dived full length to catch the ball in his right hand, just inches from the grass. It was an absolutely brilliant piece of work by Johnson; the kind that can change the course of a match.
And change the match it did, but not in the way that Australia had hoped. Hashim Amla, along with Clarke the best batsman in the world this year came to the crease, and he and Smith turned on an absolute batting masterclass. They added 50 off 30 balls, 100 off 80 balls, 150 off 116 balls, and when the partnership was finally broken in just the 33rd over, Smith and Amla had added 178 off a mere 25.3 overs at almost seven runs an over. It was breathtaking cricket, and an absolute joy to watch.
Sadly, Amla did not get enough of the strike in the last few overs of the day to register one of batting's rarest feats; a century in a single session of play. He will resume at around 3.30pm (NZ time) on 99. With him will be Jacques Kallis, and if these two can get established, the Proteas have the chance to bat Australia out of the match, the series and the ICC #1 ranking. South Africa already leads by 292 runs with eight second innings wickets remaining and look likely to set Australia an unreachable target well in excess of five hundred.
It was a most memorable day of cricket. And as entertaining as anything was the attempts of the Channel Nine commentary team to talk the Australians up even when they were taking a dreadful flogging. It was almost like listening to a 12th Man parody!
Suffice to say, we'll be watching when play starts in a few hours time. If the cricket is only half as good as yesterday's it will still be great entertainment.
UPDATE: Just half-an-hour into Day Three, Hashim Amla has reached his hundred, and now has 124 off 112 balls. South Africa now leads by 322 runs, with the best part of three days remaining in the test match.