TELFORD VICE, Bellerive Oval
VERNON Philander turned back time at Bellerive Oval in Hobart on Saturday. It was as if Leonard Cohen hadn’t died, Brian Molefe hadn’t cried, and Donald Trump hadn’t lied his way to the White House.
It was Newlands in November 2011 and January 2013 all over again. It was Lord’s in August 2012.
It was back when Philander used to pick off batsmen as if they were birds on a wire.
It was a surface made for his subtle stiletto stuff, a pitch that welcomed the kiss of the seam and sent the ball on tangents that teased batsmen into treacherous territory.
But a responsive pitch will go to waste if bowlers do not have the skill to exploit it.
Happily, Philander had that and more, setting and springing his tender trap expertly enough in 10.1 overs, five of them maidens, to take 5/21 – his 10th five-wicket haul and his first since February 2013.
And that despite a collision in the 13th over with Steve Smith, who barreled into the fast bowler as he implored Aleem Dar to award the Australian captain’s wicket for leg before.
There was a flash of Aussie rules in Smith’s shove to clear Philander from his path, and the South African needed an ice pack on his shoulder blade for the rest of the first session.
“I was busy appealing so I didn’t have my eyes on him and he was ball-watching as well,” Philander said.
“I felt pain straight away but we have the best physio (Brandon Jackson) in the world.
“These things happen. I’m just glad I’m still in the game.”
Philander returned after lunch to wrap up the innings with the help of Kyle Abbott and dazzling catches behind the wicket by JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock.
Dismissed for 85 in little more than two hours, the Australians were left to ponder their lowest total at home in 32 years.
Never before in their 793 tests have they lost their first five wickets for as few as 17 runs in a first innings.
“We’ve got to find a way to get through those tough periods and we haven’t done that for four-and-a-half test matches,” coach Darren Lehmann said with a nod to the four tests Australia have lost consecutively.
Is this a crisis?
“When you get bowled out for 85 it probably is, isn’t it?”
But the day’s drama was not done. Mitchell Starc showed that the pitch was not faithful only to Philander by removing Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook and Duminy in the space of 10 of his deliveries.
At least Cook assuaged some of the angst that has accompanied him to the crease by transferring his weight smoothly enough to score 23, in every way the best of his six innings since arriving in this country.
Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis looked like digging South Africa out of the hole they were in at 46/3. But that was before Du Plessis plonked his pad in the way of Josh Hazlewood’s inswinger.
Then Amla and Temba Bavuma picked up the slack, only for Amla to drive raggedly at Hazlewood and be caught behind.
That left Australia’s new favourite foreign cricketer, Bavuma, and an admirably restrained De Kock to guts it out. They took South Africa to stumps on 171/5 for a lead of 86.
The 7929 souls who had braved the chill sweeping in off the gunmetal grey waters of the nearby Derwent had been rewarded with two days’ play for the price of one.
A good thing, too, because the forecast for on Sunday is for a 100% chance of rain. All day.
That’s weather for Leonard Cohen, not cricket.