TELFORD VICE, Perth
FORGIVE us, dear readers, for we haven’t a clue what will or indeed has happened in Saturday’s play in the first test between Australia and South Africa at the WACA.
And before you pour scorn on us for that admission, ask yourself: did you predict even a fraction of the events of the first two days?
If you did, well done. You’ve missed your calling.
If not, welcome to our world.
Here’s what we knew at stumps on Friday – somehow South Africa had a lead of 102.
Having been dismissed for 242 and allowed the Australians to get away to a score of 105 without loss on Thursday, they found a way to bowl the home side out for 244.
At the close on Friday they were 104/2, an advantage they had earned without much help from Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla.
With AB de Villiers already out of the series with an elbow that is recovering from surgery, Steyn and Amla were undoubtedly the key players in South Africa’s cause.
So a nation will be worried that Amla had his worst test in 10 years and mortified that Steyn could be out for six months with a fresh fracture of his shoulder that will probably require surgical repair.
That’s as bad as news gets.
But the better news is that South Africa took all 10 wickets for 86 runs on Friday, a feat that under the circumstances beggars belief.
On top of that, they did so having bowled too short on Thursday and – horror of horrors – having had Vernon Philander’s successful lbw shout for David Warner’s wicket overturned because Philander had overstepped.
Warner was 17 not out at the time. He resumed on Friday on 73 and seemed on course for a century and many more.
Only for him to try and steer a delivery from Steyn through point and be caught by Hashim Amla at first slip for 97.
That was Steyn’s sole tangible contribution to the cause but it was vital.
For the rest South Africa didn’t have to look much further than Philander’s haul of 4/56 and livewire debutant left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj’s 3/56.
Philander said his untimely no-ball had “motivated me to come back and really turn it up”.
“As a bowling unit we went back (on Thursday) night and chatted about the length that we bowled, and tried to execute a lot better (on Friday).
“We were a bit short. We need to find that length that would work for us on this wicket. Our execution (on Friday) was a lot better.”
Not that Philander was under any illusion about the magnitude of Steyn’s removal from the equation.
“Losing such big players leaves a big gap,” he said. “But there’s always an opportunity for someone else to step up.”
The someone else will have to be Kagiso Rabada or Philander himself – South Africa’s only two remaining seamers.
“In this game ‘KG’ (Rabada) and myself will have to step up,” Philander said. “That serves as motivation for us to step up and deliver.
“Dale’s done it for a long time and we owe it to him.”
Australia were 166/1 when Steyn departed. Seventy-eight runs later they were all out.
Shaun Marsh’s 63 was the only other score to escape the 20s.
He and Warner put on 158 for the first wicket but no other stand reached 30.
“We had a job and that was to get the Aussies out as cheaply as possible, and it was a job well done by the rest of the bowlers,” Philander said.
The Australians are the hardest bastards in the game and none of them is harder than Warner.
But even he had kind words for Steyn: “I’m disappointed for Dale. I know how pumped he would have been to play a big role.
“I hope he can get back on the park and play the competitive cricket that we’ve seen him play.”
There were 40 overs left in the day when South Africa began their second innings, and the struggling Stephen Cook survived for 16.4 of them before pulled a Peter Siddle bouncer into midwicket’s hands.
Twenty-one balls later Amla tried to cut Josh Hazlewood’s inswinger and sent it clattering into his stumps instead.
Amla’s score, one, was a smidgen better than the duck he recorded in the first innings.
For only the third time in his 95 tests and not since 2006 had Amla contributed a mere single to South Africa’s match aggregate.
But, by stumps, the sting of that slap had faded thanks to the composed maturity shown by Dean Elgar and JP Duminy, who had built their partnership to 59.
Who knows what will happen on Saturday. Except that drama is guaranteed.