South Africa v Australia – First Test Ratings

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at 2018.03.06
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The Australian side arrived for a four Test series in South Africa – a land so terrifying and strange that the television player graphic for Usman Khawaja, a non-bowler and mediocre fielder, shows him tossing a ball from hand to hand rather than wielding a bat.

Here are the ratings for the first Test between South Africa and Australia.

Crowd Sizes
Grade: C+

Most of the talk early on was about the small, Sheffield Shieldesque, crowd watching the Test. Plenty of people were angry or critical about it. I’m not completely sure why. Shouldn’t the people of Durban be applauded? If they so obviously don’t have any interest in watching Test cricket, it feels foolish to force them to attend. Who wants to be at a Test with people who hate that form of the game?

Quality over quantity. That’s the key.

Besides, crowds have had a rough time lately. They’re either not responsive enough for Moeen Ali’s taste when the Ashes are won. Or too noisy, singing all the bloody time about themselves. Or way too parochial, only cheering for their team.

It’s tough work being a crowd. All things considered, I can’t blame the South Africans for not bothering to send one.

Evolutionary Biology
Grade: A-

There is a theory among evolutionary biologists that explains why some animals have evolved behaviours and attributes that decrease their fitness in seeming violation of Darwin’s laws.

According to this theory, a peacock sporting a spectacular, but unwieldy tail is showing off an overt flaw precisely to advertise less-obvious strengths. ‘Look at me,’ says the peacock. ‘Can I really be strutting around with this enormous, ridiculous tail that so obviously hinders my agility, if the rest of my genes weren’t so amazingly awesome?’

And, against all odds, peahens seem to buy it. Those damn fools.

It’s a somewhat controversial theory but that hasn’t prevented the South Africans from embracing the underlying philosophy.

At least, that’s what I assume they were doing when they tossed away both their reviews within the first dozen overs of the Australian innings. And then later on chose to give Steve Smith a life when AB de Villiers dropped him at slip.

‘Look at us,’ South Africa was saying. ‘Reviews? Prfffrt. Dismissing the number one ranked Test batsman in the world at the first opportunity? Who needs it.’

A wonderful display of machismo from Faf du Plessis’ men.

Mitchell Starc
Grade: B+

But hey, speaking of spectacular tails, the Australians proudly showed off their own yet again. During the Ashes, it had been primarily Pat Cummins who had driven England mad with vital lower order runs.

Mitchell Starc expresses his fury at batting below Pat Cummins during the South Africa v Australia First Test 2017-18

Here it was Mitchell Starc, demoted below Cummins and furious as all get out about it. Starc’s quick fire innings of 35 from just 25 balls on the first morning of the second day provided Australia with a much-needed momentum shift and helped power his side to a competitive total of 351. Solid tail work after the first five wickets were removed with just 177 runs on the board.

Smith was the pick of those first five wickets. This should go without saying by now. He made 56 – the only batsman in the world who could make such a score and have it diminish his average.

But, overall, it was all-rounder Mitch Marsh outshining the specialist batsmen. He fully embraced his role as the new Watto by sensibly powering his way to 96, then being dismissed on that score by the dumbest shot he played all innings.

Once South Africa batted, Starc again showed off just how spectacular Australia’s tail had been. For while de Villiers made a typically sublime 71 not out for the home side, he was left stranded as Starc removed the last few men in. The left arm speedster took 5/34 as South Africa finished day two all out for 162, a deficit of 189.

South Africa’s tactic of highlighting their flaws to show off their strengths was now in full bloom.

Dean Elgar
Grade: A+

Australia spent the third day extending their lead. Indeed, it would have been the maddest form of cricket imaginable had their lead gone backwards.

Perhaps the highlight of Australia’s second innings came when South African part time spinner, Dean Elgar, was thrown into the attack where he immediately took the wicket of Smith.

The Australian captain, infuriated at this affront, reviewed the LBW, only to be doubly humiliated when the ball-tracking showed the ball cannoning into the stumps.

Elgar, having dismissed Smith and stolen a review from the Australians in the process, is now easily the early frontrunner for man of the series.

Smith, meanwhile, as a result of being dismissed by Elgar has plummeted to 74 on the ICC Test batting rankings.

Cartwheeling Stumps
Grade: A-

South Africa’s failed pursuit of their eventual victory target of 417 had several highlights. A century from Aiden Markram – a man with a palindromic surname and a first name that sounds like five-sixth of a maiden.

Three wickets in an over for Mitchell Starc just when it looked as if South Africa might somehow threaten the total. David Warner unsuccessfully trying to hand Quinton de Kock a ‘How To Vote’ card in the dressing rooms after play.

But the pick was the delivery from Pat Cummins that knocked Faf du Plessis’ off stump out of the ground. It’s such an impressive sight that I reckon if you cartwheel a stump out of the ground, the next batsman should be out too.

It certainly would have saved everybody coming back on Day Five to bowl just 22 balls.

(Originally published at http://www.theroar.com.au/2018/03/06/the-liebke-ratings-south-africa-v-australia-first-test/)

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