Today was easily the most incredible day’s cricket I have ever seen. I actually missed the first session (I have to sleep sometime) and woke up to find that South Africa were in a reasonable position, 49-1 in response to Australia’s 284 all out. I didn’t think that Australia would get so many, but Clarke apparently batted very well with the tail. Still, South Africa looked in a good position. Shane Watson opened the bowling after lunch and I thought the Proteas would have an easy time of it. Ten overs later, of course, it was all but over. Watson took 5-17 in just five overs. It was good bowling, pitched up and moving off the surface, but South Africa didn’t play it very well. They went after the ball and were exposed when it nipped back at the stumps. There is bounce in the wicket, but Watson was pitching it on the right length to keep it hitting the stumps. Australia’s use of the DRS was also very good, precisely as it was meant. A dire run out for the ninth wicket summed up South Africa’s failings. After being one down at lunch they were all out for 96 halfway through the session.

Australia came out to bat leading by 188 and to the everyone’s amazement were all out leading by 235. It was without question the most dramatic collapse I have ever seen. I remember the West Indies being 21-5 at Sabina Park in 2004. I remember England being 21-5 at Lord’s the next year, though I’ve tried to block that out. Never before had I seen a side 21-7, however and never before in the history of Test cricket have a side been 21-9 and the Australians at one point were. They were in real danger of breaking the record for the lowest Test score of all time, New Zealand’s 26 all out against England. They got past that mark with a streaky boundary, however, and even managed to go past their lowest ever score of 36 all out. The actually added 26 for the tenth wicket to finish 47 all out. Vernon Philander picked up a five-fer on his debut, and it was certainly deserved. He bowled very tight, much like Watson did; pitching the ball up and threatening the stumps. If it went away from the batsmen he got an edge, if it went in he got an LBW.

It’s a spicy pitch in Cape Town, but that is not solely responsible for the two collapses. Nineteen wickets fell for 94 runs between lunch and the end of the Australian innings, but in the other half of the day 200 runs were added for the loss of just four wickets. The Australians especially could not be said to have batted well. Ponting shuffled across the stumps yet again and was LBW for a duck. Hussey played a needless waft outside off immediately after tea and was caught at slip and Brad Haddin played one of the worst shots I have ever seen. He tried to cut a ball that was too close to him and was caught behind with his team on 18-5! Although Australia avoided their lowest ever Test score, it was still their lowest since the war and their fourth lowest of all time.

More than anything else the Australians were culpable for their own demise and this was demonstrated quite clearly in the final passage of play. South Africa knew they had to bat sensibly to get the 236 they had been set and went about doing so. Australia were probably still in a state of some shock about their collapse and bowled a lot more loose deliveries and South Africa put them away gladly. They finished the day on 81-1 showing that the pitch was not a minefield. They may be favourites to win now, but who’d make a prediction about this match?

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