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Home Proteas win remarkable Australia Test
World number two ranked side South Africa produced one of the most remarkable Test victories in living memory to take a 1-0 lead over Australia.
South Africa, who face England next year, cruised to an 8-wicket win halfway through day three in Cape Town thanks to an unbeaten 101 from captain Graeme Smith and a glorious 112 from Hashim Amla.
They had been reeling just a day earlier though after collapsing from 49-1 at lunch on day two to 96 all out as Shane Watson, in the same manner he did against Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010, tore through the middle order with 5-17.
Australia’s first innings lead was an imposing 188, thanks largely to captain Michael Clarke, who played a brilliant, counter-attacking innings of 151 in a total of 284.
But the Australia advantage rapidly disintegrated in the face of a stunning bowling display by the hosts.
A wicket each for Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and debutant seamer Vernon Philander reduced Australia to 13-3 at tea, setting the stage for the havoc which ensued after the interval.
Mike Hussey – so often the man for a tricky situation for the Aussies – drove loosely at a wide Morkel half-volley and Amla pouched the catch in the gully. 13-4.
Philander, a 26-year-old with a fabulous record in domestic cricket, then got the crucial wicket of Clarke for just two (15-5), before Brad Haddin had a remarkable rush of blood to the head.
In an effort to put the Aussies on the front foot, Haddin charged the fast medium Philander, only to edge one through to keeper Mark Boucher. 18-6.
Morkel dismissed Ryan Harris (21-7) before Philander struck twice in three balls – Mitchell Johnson caught in the gully and Shaun Marsh trapped LBW after a review by the bowler (one of nine in the day, four of which were upheld). 21-9.
Some plucky batting from Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon carried the score to 47, their lowest in Test cricket for over a century, and the momentum had shifted irreversibly in South Africa’s favour.
The madness of the middle two innings was put into perspective in the remainder of the evening session, as Smith and Amla drove South Africa into a commanding position at 81-1.
Conditions at the famous Newlands ground tended to favour the bowlers and there was a hint of swing and seam throughout – as well as good carry from the pitch.
But the ease of South Africa’s chase highlighted the inadequacy of Australia’s second innings batting effort.
Clarke, speaking at the end of the second day, bemoaned the efforts of his top seven.
He said: “Without doubt we let ourselves down with the bat. We played disgraceful shots - horrendous shot selection”
South Africa meanwhile will be delighted at escaping a potentially disastrous start to a summer in which they will be hoping to capture the number one spot from England.
The Proteas’ will be delighted with the emergence of Philander, who could potentially fill the third seamer void which has existed since the retirement of Makhaya Ntini.
Graeme Smith’s side bat powerfully throughout and in Steyn and Morkel have two of the most diverse and dangerous bowlers in the world.
They are now guaranteed at least a draw from the two-match series, with the second and final Test starting in Johannesburg on 17 November.
England's players, currently on a break before traveling to the UAE to face Pakistan in the New Year, will be watching with interest.