This series has not wanted for off-field drama – in fact there has been far too much of it – but on the second day of the second Test, both South Africa and Australia served up another reminder of why cricket alone is enough to sell this contest.
Only 83 overs were bowled due to farcical hold-ups with the brass band and Australia’s lacklustre over-rate, but each of them felt significant as both sides fought for control of the match.
By the close of play it was South Africa who had gained it, with AB de Villiers’ unbeaten 74 from just 81 deliveries guiding them to a score of 263 for seven and a first-innings lead of 20 runs. While it was de Villiers who secured the lead, Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla had set the platform with a crucial third-wicket stand, scoring 57 and 56 respectively before a typical Australian fightback kept the game in the balance.
While de Kock perished in the final hour of the day, Vernon Philander kept de Villiers company to the close, seeing off the first five overs of the second new ball. On a slow pitch where value for runs is hard to find, a low-scoring match is in prospect and so every run that South Africa can add on the third morning will feel as though it is worth two.
The hosts dominated the opening two sessions of the day, even if the going was slow at times. The day began with confirmation that Kagiso Rabada faces a level two charge that could rule him out of the remaining two Tests, and he took to the crease with typical determination
At 155 for two, trailing by just 88 runs, South Africa looked set for a telling first-innings lead. But after tea, they tumbled to 183 for six and were in danger of a deficit. Once again it was Starc providing the spark for Australia, knocking Amla’s off-peg over with a vicious yorker that was delivered from around the wicket. But then AB’s unbeaten 74 helped South Africa to take the lead before the end of day’s play.
AUS 243 (71.3 ov) | Warner 63 | Rabada 5/96, Ngidi 3/51
SA 263/7 (95 ov) | de Villiers 74*, Amla 56 | Marsh 26/2
Stumps: South Africa lead by 20 runs