South Africa stung Australia by dropping them to 3 for 15 in a frenetic opening to the top-of-the-table contest before the home team recovered to be 3 for 74 at lunch.
Peter English of Cricinfo reports that the tourists’ bid to topple the world champions, who are still trying to prove they are an all-conquering force following a subdued year, started in stunning style with Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini frightening the Australians with the early breakthroughs.
Simon Katich and Michael Clarke eased some of the pain during a 59-run partnership, with Katich posting 35 and Clarke 23, but there was still plenty of work to do to get the team to safety. After winning the toss Ricky Ponting said his senior batsmen had to stand up, but within 32 balls three of them, including the captain, had departed.
Ntini and Steyn were nervous initially, spraying their opening deliveries, and then suddenly, with help from the edgy Australians, they were world beaters. Matthew Hayden hit three fours from over-pitched Ntini deliveries, including two in the first over, before his career crisis worsened on 12 when his feet were stuck and his bat waved a catch to Graeme Smith at first slip. Hayden was stunned at the error to a reasonable delivery and it was the eighth time in the past ten innings against South Africa that Ntini had removed him.
Next ball Ricky Ponting took just a small step to an attempted off drive and his push was well taken by AB de Villiers at third slip. Ponting was too adventurous too soon and Ntini was on a hat-trick, with the following delivery being left by Michael Hussey.
Hussey received the best ball of the dismissed trio when Steyn angled one across him and the batsmen was forced to play, nibbling to de Villiers who accepted a stunning catch diving forward from third slip. It was Hussey’s second zero of the season and the South Africans could not believe their situation.
Clarke’s quick single from his first ball almost added to the home team’s woes, but Katich’s desperate dive saved him by a few centimetres. Once Katich was settled he started to score more freely.
He drove hard and well, starting with a push through cover off Steyn for a boundary, and then swung three fours in a row off Jacques Kallis. One was all-run to midwicket and then he pushed Kallis through cover and down the ground in a swift counter punch. Australia needed his fight on a pitch that was not as brutal as expected, but still offered enough bounce to make the fast men smile.
While Katich hit four crisp boundaries, Clarke was happier to work the ball around and was a mostly calm figure. He was hit on the thigh by Morne Morkel, who was gaining sharp lift, and the bowler will remain a threat during the game. At lunch Ntini had 2 for 18 from six overs and Steyn returned 1 for 13 from six.
South Africa were forced into a late change when the key batsman Ashwell Prince was ruled out with a cracked thumb suffered in the nets on Tuesday. Prince’s spot was filled by the debutant JP Duminy and he is expected to bat at No. 6.Tweet