Pat Cummins was again the star performer for Australia on day two of their tour match against South Africa A as the tourists’ top order missed out on spending some valuable time at the crease ahead of the first Test next week.
Cummins scored an unbeaten 59 as the final three wickets added 151 to lift Australia to 329 all out, a lead of 109, before the hosts ate into the deficit in the final session to be 0-55 at stumps on Friday.
Opener Cameron Bancroft was the only batsman in the top seven to face more than 60 balls – his 45 took 123 deliveries and 189 minutes to accumulate – as five batsmen made a start but were dismissed in the 20s.
With one day left and South Africa A still in possession of all 10 second-innings wickets, Steve Smith’s batting lineup might not get another centre-wicket opportunity before the first Test in Durban from March 1.
“It would’ve been nice as a batting unit to knock that score off and go really big and kill the game completely,” Bancroft told cricket.com.au after play.
“It hasn’t been the case. We’ve had a lot of small contributions from a lot of batters.
“We’re still in a good position in this game and hopefully we can come out tomorrow and play some good cricket to finish the game off.”
But while top order failed to convert, the tail, led by Cummins and ably supported by Mitchell Starc (18), Nathan Lyon (38) and Josh Hazlewood (26) batted with freedom either side of the second new ball.
Starting the day at 3-87, Bancroft (45) and Shaun Marsh (25) put on 37 before Marsh edged his drive to first slip off the bowing Beuran Hendricks, the left-armer who finished with figures of 5-83.
Bancroft’s dogged innings ended prematurely, or so he thought, when he was given out caught behind down the leg side off Hendricks. As the umpire raised his index finger, Bancroft put his head in his hands in shock and later said he would have reviewed the decision if he had the option.
Mitchell Marsh (28) hooked his second ball for six over deep backward square leg and crashed three other boundaries as he and Tim Paine (22) added 43 for the sixth wicket.
But their union ended when Marsh was trapped lbw from a Hendricks yorker and three overs later Paine fell in the same fashion to medium pacer Malusi Siboto, who mirrored Bancroft’s despair earlier when he was convinced the Australia wicketkeeper feathered one behind.
With all the recognized batsmen back in the sheds, it was left to Cummins and co to secure a lead, and they did just that.
Cummins hit 11 fours in his second first-class half-century that lasted 141 minutes at the crease. He put on 47 with Starc and then a quick-fire 64 with Lyon, whose 38 came from 34 balls with three fours and a sweet six off leg-spinner Shaun von Berg.
Finally, Hazlewood and Cummins added 30, with 26 of those runs belonging to the senior partner who hit six fours, to take Australia to 329 in the 91st over.
“It’s nice to see the tail wag,” Bancroft said.
“If you’re going to have really good series, obviously you need your batters to be able to make big runs, but if your tail is able to wag it makes a massive difference how affective you can be in your innings, that’s for sure.”
As the light began to fade in the evening session, Australia’s quicks hunted wickets but to no avail.
Starc’s figures of 4-22 appear expensive, but half of those runs came from false strokes as the left-armer challenged the front pad of the two opening right-handers.
Mitchell Marsh was the pick of the bowlers, conceding just seven runs from his five overs, but the first-wicket combination of Zubryan Hamza (25no) and Pieter Malan (27no) handled everything the Aussies threw at them.
Being a first-class match only 11 players are allowed to play but there was a new face in the Australian camp, with head coach Darren Lehmann back amongst the Test squad after touching down in Johannesburg yesterday afternoon.
Lehmann was hitting slips catches before play as he did laps of the boundary during the first session. Cricket Australia General Manager of Team Performance Pat Howard flew over with Lehmann from New Zealand and was at the venue, but the third member of their touring party – opening batsman David Warner – did not travel to Willowmoore Park.
South Africa A First Innings
Hamza c Smith b Hazlewood 44 (89) Malan c Handscomb b Cummins 8 (34) de Bruyn c Khawaja b Hazlewood 46 (43) Zondo c Smith b Hazlewood 3 (11) Muthusamy c Paine b MMarsh 36 (86) Second c Bancroft b Starc 21 (31) Mulder c Paine b Cummins 29 (37) von Berg b Cummins 4 (10) Siboto lbw MMarsh 10 (9) Olivier c Smith b Cummins 0 (4) Hendricks not out 0 (0) Total 220 all out (58.5 overs)
Australia Bowling Starc 1-37 (14 overs) Hazlewood 3-40 (12) Cummins 4-32 (11) M. Marsh 2-50 (7.5) Lyon 0-45 (14)
Australia First Innings
Bancroft c Second b Hendricks 45 (123) Khawaja c Zondo b Olivier 22 (42) Handscomb c Hamza b Olivier 0 (3) Smith c Second b Siboto 23 (24) S. Marsh c de Bruyn b Hendricks 25 (59) M. Marsh lbw Hendricks 28 (53) T.Paine lbw Siboto 22 (50) P. Cummins not out 59 (95) M. Starc c de Bruyn b von Berg 46 (76) N. Lyon c Hamza b Hendricks 38 (34) J. Hazlewood b Hendricks 26 (32) Total 329 all out (90.4 overs)
South Africa Bowling Olivier 2-37 (13 overs) Hendricks 5-83 (24.4) Siboto 2-56 (22) Mulder 0-52 (11) von Berg 1-55 (13) Muthusamy 0-30 (7)
South Africa A Second Innings
Hamza not out 25 (55) Malan not out 27 (53) Total 0-55(18 overs)
Australia Bowling Starc 0-22 (4 overs) Hazlewood 0-9 (4) M. Marsh 0-7 (5) Cummins 0-7 (3) Lyon 0-7 (2)
Australia XI:Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
South Africa A XI:Khayalihle Zondo (c), Rudi Second (wk), Pieter Malan, Theunis De Bruyn, Senuran Muthusamy, Wiaan Mulder, Zubryan Hamza, Shaun Van Berg, Malusi Siboto, Duanne Olivier, Beuran Hendricks.
Qantas Tour of South Africa
Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match v South Africa A, Sahara Park, Benoni, Feb 22-24
First Test Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5
Second Test St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13
Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3