Rabada’s five-for puts South Africa in command


Stumps South Africa 39 for 1 (Rabada 17*, Elgar 11*) trail Australia 243 (Warner 63, Rabada 5-96, Ngidi 3-51) by 204 runs
It’ll do a bit early. Bit of grass, bit of moisture, big first hour.

That about summed up the sentiments of Steven Smith and Faf du Plessis at the toss in Port Elizabeth, where Smith chose to bat and du Plessis didn’t mind one little bit. It was not surprising, then, that Kagiso Rabada took 5 for 13 in the space of 18 balls on this first day’s play. It was surprising that his spell that defined the day came either side of the tea break, when Australia had done all the hard work.

In fact, there could hardly have been any less action in the first hour. The ball did nip around, and there were plenty of plays and misses, but Australia’s openers reached drinks on a yawning total of 23 for 0. That was a win for Australia. So were the 61 bonus runs that came from the ninth- and tenth-wicket partnerships between Tim Paine and Nathan Lyon, and then Paine and Josh Hazlewood. From 170 for 6, South Africa let Australia get away just a little bit.

Still, Rabada’s efforts, plus contributions from Lungi Ngidi and Vernon Philander kept the total to 243, Australia’s lowest win-the-toss-and-bat-first score of the Smith captaincy era. South Africa should go to bed happy with their day, despite losing Aiden Markram during a challenging little batting period they faced as evening approached. Markram was trapped lbw for 11 by the first ball that Pat Cummins bowled in the innings, but it was Australia’s only breakthrough.

At the close of play, South Africa were on 39 for 1 with Dean Elgar on 11 and Rabada, the nightwatchman, on 17 from 14 balls. It capped off an eventful day for Rabada, who will also spend the rest of the Test wondering if it will be his last match of the series. His dismissal of Smith sparked Australia’s mini-collapse, but also resulted in Rabada brushing his shoulder against Smith as the batsman walked off. With five demerit points already to his name, Rabada is perilously close to a two-Test suspension.

It was understandable that Rabada would at least be exuberant after dismissing Smith, who spent much of the second session building a steady little partnership with Shaun Marsh. Rabada angled one in to Smith and rapped him on the pad to have him lbw for 25, the review requested by Australia’s captain only confirming how very out he was.

In Rabada’s next over, the final one before tea, he had Shaun Marsh lbw for 24 to a delivery that curled in to the left-hander, and then had Mitchell Marsh caught behind off a thin inside edge behind as he tried to drive what should have been the penultimate ball of the session. Rabada returned after the break to have Pat Cummins caught behind first ball, and although Mitchell Starc survived the hat-trick delivery, he was bowled by Rabada soon after for 8.

It was a chaotic period for Australia, but Paine displayed a cool head and set about working with the tail to lift Australia’s total up past 200, and close to 250. He put on 30 for the ninth wicket with Lyon and then 31 for the final wicket with Hazlewood. Both Lyon (17) and Paine (36) were bowled by Ngidi, who finished with 3 for 51 and justified his inclusion ahead of the veteran Morne Morkel, who was dropped for this Test.

The morning had started with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft looking set to make it through the opening session unscathed, but their 98-run stand ended on the stroke of lunch when Bancroft edged an outswinger behind off Philander for 38. Warner had been so careful early that at the drinks break he was on 8 from 36 deliveries, but a change in approach resulted in him scoring 42 off 33 in the second half of the session.

He brought up his half-century from his 69th delivery, showing no signs of distraction after three days of being in the spotlight following his stairwell altercation with Quinton de Kock in Durban. But despite his strong start, Warner could not capitalise and was bowled by Ngidi for 63 in the second session.

By then, Philander had also had Usman Khawaja caught behind for 4. Philander was superb in helpful conditions, taking 2 for 25 from 18 overs. The Australians had to work hard to get through his probing new-ball spell. But much more probing was to come.

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