State of play
Australia 4-297 from 90 overs. Marsh 122, Smith 91, Steyn 2-54
Morning session: Aus 3-83 (3-83 from 27 overs)
Afternoon session: Aus 4-176 (1-93 from 27 overs)
Evening session: Aus 4-297 (0-121 from 36 overs)
Toss: Won by Graeme Smith, sending Michael Clarke and Australia in to bat. Clarke said he was going to bat if he had won. Win-win.
At a venue where the side that has won the toss has never lost, Michael Clarke’s men were put in under cloudless skies. The new ball onslaught claimed the openers before Alex Doolan’s debut innings ended on 27 just before lunch. Captain Clarke looked ready for a long stay before top-edging a hook to fine-leg. From there Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh blunted the Proteas attack right through stumps, hitting spinner Robin Petersen for 22 in a four-over spell. The pair raised their 100 partnership from 170 balls, but that wouldn’t be the only century celebrated in the day. A tickle to fine-leg brought up Marsh’s second Test ton, reinforcing the decision to return him to the squad after being ruled out before the tour left. No wickets would fall in the evening session as Australia advanced and consolidated its strong position, leaving Greame Smith to ponder his decision to bowl.
Man of the moment
Did SOS answer Australia’s S.O.S.? Not really. Australia was certainly in trouble at 4-98 when Clarke fell, but on what turned out to be a pretty flat track, Marsh applied himself and knuckled down when Steyn in particular was bringing the heat. The Western Australian appeared restricted throughout his innings, making his feat of total concentration that much more impressive. He played all the shots, impressive straight and off-his pads. Five days ago he was plundering boundaries for the Perth Scorchers in the BBL|03 Big Final. Today he was measured, calculating and most importantly effective against the number one Test team in the world. The type of innings his talent has promised for years.
The turning point
At 4-98 and with the captain in the sheds, South Africa had Australia on the ropes. With an injured Shaun Marsh and fresh batsman at the crease, the Proteas lost their lines and struggled to create pressure, the introduction of Peterson handing the initiative back to the tourists. Smith is making a habit of entering sticky situations and leaving them with his team in the ascendency. A career-defining century in Perth rescued Australia on a sporting track. Those are the types of knocks that make future leaders.
Alex Doolan’s first boundary in the creams of his country couldn’t have been sweeter, middling a perfect cover drive off Vernon Philander.
Seemingly hampered by a mystery injury, Marsh dances down the wicket to Peterson, whips him past short mid-wicket, and bisects the two fielders in the deep.
It might have only been a single, but any run that gets you from 99 to 100 is an important one. Marsh’s celebration was part relief, part exhaustion, part satisfaction.
Taking on Steyn and the second new ball, Steve Smith lent into a booming outswinger, timing it with little more than a push to rocket to the cover boundary.
Unrecognisable a week ago, the fear of a green monster was slowly dispelled each day the Test drew closer. At a venue where the toss is a huge indicator of the outcome, South Africa elected to bowl, and early signs pointed to a capital decision. But, as the day wore on, only a handful of deliveries acted out of character, flattening out for Marsh and Smith to fill their pockets.
Beware the injured bastman
Off the hook
Hashim Amla could have taken out catch of the series in the first session, diving full-length to his left in the gully. It looked as though he had it until he thudded back to earth, dislodging the ball from his outstretched left hand to give Shaun Marsh a life on 12. Would turn out to be a costly spill.
He said, he said
“Statistics speak for themselves” Ryan McLaren on Graeme Smith’s decision to bowl first. Not quite Nasser Hussain. Yet.
“He probably is. It took me a good week” Steve Smith on the jetlag he and Shaun Marsh are still suffering from. The message here: don’t sleep before a Test match.
886 – The number of days between centuries for Marsh. His first came on day three of his maiden Test against Sri Lanka on 10 September 2011.
199* – Highest fifth-wicket partnership for Australia in Centurion. To be fair, Australia has only played here once before. But still, Marsh and Smith beat the 80-run record by Steve Waugh and Greg Blewett. Tugga and Blewy will take some overtaking for highest fifth-wicket partnership between these two nations – a whopping 385 in Johannesburg in 1997.
1,101,000 – The combined number of AUD$ Marsh and Smith went for at today’s IPL auction. Smith (AUD$710,000) and Marsh (AUD$391,000) were some of the fortunate Aussies who cashed in. This pair did so twice in 24 hours.
About the Writer
Sam Ferris is a writer for cricket.com.au, having started his career in 2011 as a Big Bash League correspondent with Cricket Australia. His passion for the longer versions of the sport drew him to the cricket.com.au team in 2013-14, where he has continued to monitor both the domestic scene and the national sides closely.