Australia's lower-order resilience decisive against SA

05 March 2018 - 15:21 By KHANYISO TSHWAKU in Durban
Mitchell Starc is bowled out by Keshav Maharaj during the Sunfoil Test Series match between South Africa and Australia at Sahara Kings Park Stadium, Durban South Africa on the 02 March 2018.
Mitchell Starc is bowled out by Keshav Maharaj during the Sunfoil Test Series match between South Africa and Australia at Sahara Kings Park Stadium, Durban South Africa on the 02 March 2018.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Lost in the midst of the red mist of the David Warner/Quinton de Kock verbal welter-weight bout was the fact that Australia's lower-order resilience separated the feisty combatants.

During the course of the 118-run win which gave Australia a priceless 1-0 lead three tests remaining‚ the hosts couldn't land the killer blow when they had Australia weak at the knees.

When Australia were confronted by South Africa's tail‚ Mitchell Starc called on his inner Wasim Akram to nullify South Africa's lower-order.

Starc was far from a flat-track bully.

Three of his nine match victims were accomplished batsmen and his task is to ensure the tail doesn't even entertain thoughts of wagging.

When Australia were 177/5 in the first innings‚ Mitchell Marsh rallied the troops around and added 174 more runs.

That was 14 more than South Africa managed in their first dig and more importantly‚ the last five wickets only managed to put together 58 runs.

The last four wickets could only put together four runs in the space of just over three overs with Starc taking three of those scalps.

Starc's corrosive reverse swing reached levels of acidity the Proteas tail just couldn't stomach in the chase.

In the space of one over‚ the whippy left-armer did for Vernon Philander‚ Kagiso Rabada and Keshav Maharaj without the addition of a run.

In the bigger scheme of things‚ the 42 runs Australia's tail added in their second innings wasn't of particular relevance.

The 189-run lead they accrued from dismissing South Africa for a paltry 162 in their first innings was the difference.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis admitted as much and said the absence of Dale Steyn‚ their best reverse swing exponent‚ was keenly felt.

“It (the reverse swing) was the real difference‚" Du Plessis said.

"Kagiso Rabada and Starc were the standouts when it comes to reverse swing.

"Every time KG had the ball‚ it looked like he could take a wicket at any stage and it was the same thing with Starc.

"One bowler in each team has the potential to do that and rightly so Dale is one of those.

"He's deadly with the reverse swinging ball but he's not available right now and hopefully the guys will find a way to eliminate the tail a lot quicker.

"It wasn't an issue of the runs they scored‚ but keeping them quiet.

"The amount of runs scored by the tail is going to be a crucial part of the series.

“It's difficult for the tail and there's a reason why Starc hasn't just done it to South Africa.

"He reverse swings the ball at pace.

"The only weapon we have in the South African team who can do that right now is Kagiso Rabada.

"The tail's going to have to scrap it and get as many runs as possible.

"We know as the top seven batsmen‚ the responsibility lies on us and it makes it a little bit easier.

"The same thing applies when Kagiso gets a sniff of the tail in the same way.

"We need to be a bit more ruthless with their tail.”

Du Plessis's frank admission of the top order failings could go a long way in settling the team's early nerves against Australia.

Generally South Africa doesn't do well in first tests against Australia‚ with only two examples of South Africa winning the first test of a series against Australia since readmission (1993/94 and 2011/12).

The motivation to win against Australia is there even though it's been beyond many a South African captain on these shores.

“I don't think the team needs more motivation to beat Australia‚" Du PLessis. said.

"They're a very strong team but for us‚ it's important to play our cricket in the way we need to beat Australia.

"Whatever that will work for different personalities and whatever that brings the best out of you‚ that needs to come out.

"It's a nice opportunity for us to learn from the mistakes and stand up and compete against Australia.”