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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Jonathan Howcroft and Geoff Lemon

Australia v South Africa: first Test, day one – as it happened

Travis Head’s blazing innings against South Africa swung the first Test Australia’s way after a century partnership with Steve Smith at the Gabba.
Travis Head’s blazing innings against South Africa swung the first Test Australia’s way after a century partnership with Steve Smith at the Gabba. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

And here’s Geoff Lemon’s report at the end of day one at the Gabba:


After winning the toss and putting South Africa into bat Australia’s bowlers did the business, requiring barely 49 overs to dismiss a fragile touring line-up (with a tail that begins at No 7) for just 152. Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon took three wickets apiece, Pat Cummins and Scott Boland two, as only one Proteas partnership passed 15.

Kyle Verreynne’s 64 was the only knock of note, and while he was supported by Temba Bavuma (38) South Africa looked in the contest. But before and after their partnership, wickets tumbled in ugly clusters as Australia’s pacers found a dangerous length and Lyon extracted prodigious bounce.

Australia’s reply began badly with David Warner’s lean run of form continuing with a golden duck, and his side were soon 27 for 3 as Kagiso Rabada, Marco Jansen, and Anrich Nortje all lived up to the hype. That was when Travis Head took over, accelerating from two runs from 16 deliveries to a 48-ball half-century. His thrilling counterattack reached 78 by the close and his partnership with Steve Smith (36) threatened to take the game out of South Africa’s reach on the opening day, only for a couple of late wickets to add intrigue to day two.

Thank you for joining us today, we’ll be back to do it all again tomorrow.


Close of Play: Australia 145-5 (South Africa 152)

And with that, the players walk off. Boland did his job, despite falling for a brief one. An excellent late fightback from the Proteas to keep them in the running, but Australia are firmly in the box seat after an action packed day.

WICKET! Boland c Verreyenne b Rabada 1 (Australia 145-5)

Rabada pushes through fatigue to bowl his 12th over of the session – and he gets his reward! Length delivery, Boland props forward, regulation edge behind and Verreyenne makes no mistake.

33rd over: Australia 145-4 (Head 78, Boland 1) Scott Boland comes out as the nightwatchman and almost perishes first ball with a wild slash outside off stump. That is not in the job description. Nortje then gets one to rear up at 149kph that has Boland flinching with his gloves in front of his heart and fortunate to land away from the close catchers. A single tickled off his pads is greeted with rapturous applause around the Gabba.

One over to go.

WICKET! Smith b Nortje 36 (Australia 144-4)

Out of nothing, and with just eight minutes until stumps, Nortje gets one to nip back off the seam, through the gate, and into Steve Smith’s stumps. There was some inside-edge in the mix too, but that was top-quality fast bowling. Smith perhaps guilty of slowing his tempo a long way out from the close of play and eventually losing focus.

32nd over: Australia 144-3 (Smith 36, Head 78) Into the seventh over of his spell, and 11th of the session, Rabada sends down an unplayable delivery to Smith that hits a perfect length and jags past the outside edge. One of the best bowlers in the world is then bullied by Head who muscles a closed-face straight drive for four. This knock from the South Australian grows in stature by the minute.

31st over: Australia 137-3 (Smith 35, Head 72) The day’s play ebbs away as Australia eye the close and Nortje toils at two set batters.

30th over: Australia 136-3 (Smith 34, Head 72) Rabada surprises Head with a bumper to begin the over and the batter is slow to pick it up, only just ducking out of the way. There then follows four more dots with the bowler gaining the upper hand, and that induces a dubious shot from the final delivery, Head trying to cut very close to his body, but he gets away with it and earns four with a shot that travels through the outer angle of the minimally guarded cordon.

29th over: Australia 132-3 (Smith 34, Head 68) Nortje returns to the attack for a final dart as the shadows lengthen across the square. Head responds by whipping his wrists through the ball and back-cutting a length delivery for four.

28th over: Australia 127-3 (Smith 34, Head 63) Rabada continues to bend his back and he gets one to spit at Head, the first in a while that has arrived with menace. The left-hander doesn’t worry and calmly rotates the strike soon afterwards to bring up the 100 partnership. Smith is now so set he’s pulling out those exaggerated leaves that must infuriate pace bowlers.


27th over: Australia 126-3 (Smith 34, Head 62) The first heart-in-mouth moment for a while with Smith almost chopping Ngidi onto his stumps. He survives and Australia give the air of a side looking towards the close of play and the conclusion of a very very good day for them.

26th over: Australia 124-3 (Smith 32, Head 62) After a couple of slow overs and four dot balls from Rabada the match feels like it’s slipping into a holding pattern – then Head clubs a straight drive on the up to remind us of Australia’s ascendancy. This partnership has just about determined the outcome of the Test in half a session.

25th over: Australia 120-3 (Smith 32, Head 58) A lull in the action as Australia take stock and milk Ngidi for a chanceless couple of singles.

24th over: Australia 118-3 (Smith 31, Head 57) The Proteas are now unsure whether to attack or defend, which is Steve Smith’s happy place, allowing him to work the ball into gaps and sap the energy from Kagiso Rabada. “Just” three from the over but it’s hard to see anything other than this partnership filling its boots as the sun dips behind the Gabba grandstands.

50 for Travis Head

23rd over: Australia 115-3 (Smith 28, Head 57) Ngidi returns but Head is so full of confidence it doesn’t matter who’s bowling to him. This time he throws his hands at a full delivery outside off and sends the ball rocketing to the extra-cover fence, then flicks an innocuous delivery off his hip all the way over the rope at backward square leg. That’s his 50 up from just 48 deliveries (and he was two from 16 before his first boundary). Still the runs flow with a third boundary of the over tickled down to fine-leg. South Africa are in a hole.

22nd over: Australia 100-3 (Smith 27, Head 43) Travis Head has become this match’s decisive actor. He arrived with Australia wobbling and his counterattack has turned the contest on its head. His fine touch continues with a clip for three over midwicket and a sweetly time pull for four. Rabada has lost his early zip.

21st over: Australia 92-3 (Smith 26, Head 36) Another boundary for Head as Australia’s counterattack threatens to get away from South Africa. Maharaj is trying to get through his work quickly and dry up this partnership but he is not finding anything like the turn or bounce that Lyon generated earlier, allowing Head to drill a muscular four through long-off. Plenty of good running around that stroke keeps the scoreboard moving at a brisk pace.

29,306 inside the Gabba today.

20th over: Australia 84-3 (Smith 25, Head 29) Another over, another boundary or two, this time Smith caressing the returning Rabada through the covers in elegant fashion, then Head picking up a delivery sliding onto his pads and lifting it over the infield with timing and confidence. This partnership has dragged the match firmly Australia’s way.

19th over: Australia 74-3 (Smith 20, Head 24) Time for the left-arm spin of Keshav Maharaj, but it’s easy pickings for Travis Head, who keeps the boundaries flowing, by easing the ball off his hip down to fine leg, then stepping deep in his crease and slapping a cut through the covers.

Eamonn Maloney has emailed in questioning the balance of South Africa’s side. “Feels like maybe…too many good bowlers? Like to the point where you found it too hard to leave one out to add the extra batter you need? Or is there no such thing as team balance and 45 all out vs 57 all out means you chose the right side?”

I’m conflicted. I like the bravery and boldness of it, but it will also look foolhardy at times – like today. It puts an awful lot of pressure on the attack and against the calibre of players like Smith and Labuschagne they’re not always going to come off.

18th over: Australia 65-3 (Smith 20, Head 15) South Africa must now be wondering if they have missed their Steve Smith window as the superstar begins Nortje’s latest over with a glorious pull shot that was four as soon as it left the bat. Another boundary later in the over comes with a straight bat, Smith drilling an overpitched delivery straight back down the ground with interest. Nortje responds by digging an effort ball into Smith’s midriff with stump mic picking up some chirp along the lines of “have some of that”.

17th over: Australia 57-3 (Smith 12, Head 15) The runs are flowing steadily now with Travis Head looking to score at every opportunity. He picks up four through wide mid-on when Jansen strays onto his pads, but he’s a bit streaky thereafter, fortunate to survive a squeezed inside-edge that almost dribbles into his pegs, then swishing and missing outside off.

16th over: Australia 53-3 (Smith 12, Head 11) Head rides the bounce after drinks to guide Nortje to fine-leg for a single then Smith cuts hard for only one run after some good work in the covers. South Africa need to rethink their length, and Nortje does just that after shifting from over to around the wicket, but Head is equal to it, driving on the up for three. More strike rotation singles follow as this partnership beds in.

15th over: Australia 46-3 (Smith 10, Head 6) Left-armer Jansen begins the 15th over by coming around the wicket to Smith, and it almost pays dividends when a yorker almost tailed in under Smith’s bat with the follow-up close to sneaking through the gate. Ball after ball Jansen is happy with his endeavour but finds his hands reaching for his head in frustration; welcome to bowling to Steve Smith Marco.


14th over: Australia 46-3 (Smith 10, Head 6) Nortje continues his excellent spell, beating both batters with length deliveries. However, South Africa collectively are guilty of bowling a little too short and allowing Australia to defend from the crease, not drawing them forward into risk-reward strokes. That state of affairs is compounded by Nortje allowing Head room outside his off stump to convert a defensive push from the crease into a backfoot square drive for four.

13th over: Australia 40-3 (Smith 9, Head 2) Smith welcomes Jansen back to the crease by clipping the giant left-armer through wide mid-on for three. Both batters try to assert themselves and wrestle the momentum Australia’s way but it’s a difficult track on which to line anything up.

12th over: Australia 36-3 (Smith 6, Head 2) Nortje is bowling 140kph+ and hitting the deck hard. Head is trying to absorb the pace from the crease, accepting each defensive stroke like it’s a bomb detonating against his bat. Nortje then gets one to move a fraction and tickle the outside edge, but for the second time today the catch does not carry to second slip. This is one is much much closer than earlier with the ball hitting the turf inches from Elgar’s fingertips with the third umpire required to rubber stamp the soft signal on-field. Nortje keeps coming, pounding the ball into the Gabba deck and beating Head for pace. Nortje looks like has a bagful in him if he finds a slightly fuller length.

11th over: Australia 36-3 (Smith 6, Head 2) Elgar considers a review after Jansen raps Head full on the pads, but it looked to be just sliding down the legside with the left-arm pacer angling into the left-handed batter. Van der Dussen then commits a hilarious misfield to allow Head off strike. It should have been two in the end but Australia’s running was poor. Smith is untroubled playing from his crease and drives compactly through the covers to advance his tally by two.

10th over: Australia 33-3 (Smith 4, Head 1) Anrich Nortje is tasty! His first delivery to Travis Head is a bouncer that clears everyone on its way to the boundary for five wides. Head gets off strike, allowing Nortje to slide down a beautiful length delivery beyond the outside edge of Smith’s bat. 13 wickets in the day already and still plenty of overs to be bowled.

WICKET! Khawaja c Sub (Harmer) b Nortje 11 (Australia 27-3)

Rabada struck with his first ball, so did Jansen, Nortje? He takes two deliveries to get into the action. His first ball was clipped sweetly for four off his hip by Khawaja, but the second spat violently off the surface to clip the shoulder of the bat and fly to the cordon where the sub Harmer dived away to his left at third slip to pouch a superb wicket.

9th over: Australia 23-2 (Khawaja 7, Smith 4) Jansen bowls a similar delivery first up to Smith, but the No 4 demonstrates that eerie ability to be in position almost before the ball has been bowled and caresses an all-run four through extra cover. That was ominous. Jansen is unfazed, ripping a fast off-cutter past the shoulder of Smith’s bat with plenty of bounce off a length , as you would expect from a 206cm paceman.

WICKET! Labuschagne c Elgar b Jansen 11 (Australia 18-2)

Just like that, a bowling change earns a wicket! Marco Jansen’s opening delivery in Tests in Australia is a perfect full delivery from over the wicket, drawing Labuschagne forward and provoking an outside edge that carries to Elgar at second slip. Classic left-arm seam bowling.

8th over: Australia 18-1 (Khawaja 7, Labuschagne 11) Ngidi does get a fourth over, and it begins with Khawaja tipping and running to the non-striker’s end. The bowler’s length is too short to tempt a false stroke and eventually Labuschagne defends from the crease for a single. After that explosive start South Africa have allowed the game to meander in the afternoon sun.

7th over: Australia 16-1 (Khawaja 6, Labuschagne 10) Probing from Rabada but after Khawaja rotates the strike with a single Labuschagne defends well from the crease, accepting his job is to blunt the attack for the time being.

6th over: Australia 15-1 (Khawaja 5, Labuschagne 10) Ngidi fails to adjust his line to the right-hander and after firing one down the legside he coughs up two runs on Labuschagne’s pads. It’s far from express pace at 127kph and he looks to be carrying a slight limp as he ambles back to his mark. He’s showing no sign of coming out of the attack, but he may not be fully fit. Ngidi continues his work, bustling in over the wicket, and he beats the batter’s inside edge and appeals for LBW. It’s declined on-field but Elgar sends the REVIEW to the third umpire. It looked hopeful, striking Labuschagne above the knee roll, and DRS confirms the ball was tracking miles over the bails. Not sure I’d give Ngidi a fourth over with this new ball considering the firepower elsewhere in the attack.

5th over: Australia 13-1 (Khawaja 5, Labuschagne 8) Rabada begins his assault at Khawaja by trying to go short, but there isn’t enough pace or bounce and the home track hero pulls elegantly for four. The left-hander then leaves smartly or defends calmly from the crease as Rabada’s rhythm deserts him.

4th over: Australia 9-1 (Khawaja 1, Labuschagne 8) Ngidi is honing in on Khawaja’s off stump and after that pair share 11 dot balls, the run is halted when a closed face defensive push trickles into the on-side and Labuschagne calls his partner through for a single. Now, what can Rabada do against Khawaja?

3rd over: Australia 8-1 (Khawaja 0, Labuschagne 8) Nearly another for Rabada! He draws the edge from Labuschagne but the ball arrives at second slip on the half volley. This is a proper contest and South Africa have a window tonight to put Australia under an awful lot of pressure.

2nd over: Australia 8-1 (Khawaja 0, Labuschagne 8) Ngidi shares the new ball, bowling around the wicket to Khawaja, trying to shape the ball away from the bat. After a couple of looseners he finds his range, getting some lift out of the surface. Both protagonists are happy to share a maiden.

1st over: Australia 8-1 (Khawaja 0, Labuschagne 8) Incredible start for South Africa and Rabada. That was clearly a plan to Warner and the veteran was not expecting it. His lean run continues. Labuschagne gets the scoreboard moving with an inside-edge that scuttles down to the fine leg fence. Then he profits from an outside edge to double the total. Maybe 152 was par after all?

WICKET! Warner c Zondo b Rabada 0 (Australia 0-1)

FIRST BALL! Vicious lifter from Rabada bowling over the wicket towards the armpit of Warner. The under-pressure opener could only fend with his bottom hand off the bat and the ball looped towards short-leg where Zondo made a superb catch leaping to take the ball one-handed over his head.

What a start!

Usman Khawaja and David Warner are out to begin Australia’s reply. Kagiso Rabada has the ball…

“Arriving in Australia not having a batter averaging 40 is a scary situation,” bemoans Graeme Smith at the tea break. It’s hard to see that situation changing this series after that effort.

Tea: South Africa 152

The pitch is sporting, Australia’s attack bowled reasonably, but that is a desperate batting performance. Bavuma and Verreynne shared a stand of 98, the next highest partnership was 15. A lot of pressure now on the vaunted bowling attack to keep this Test alive.


WICKET! Ngidi c Green b Cummins 3 (South Africa 152 all out)

Into the deck from Cummins, Ngidi backs away and his angled bat deflects the ball straight to Cameron Green in the gully. South Africa’s first innings ends in the 49th over.


48th over: South Africa 152-9 (Rabada 10, Ngidi 3) Rabada tries to reverse sweep Nathan Lyon, gets into an ugly tangle and is given out LBW. A quick REVIEW shows the ball struck the underside of the glove first and the South African is reprieved. The tailender then goes the tonk but mistimes a slog that only just evades the fingertips of the back-pedalling Mitchell Starc behind point. Ngidi is then fortunate to beat a diving fielder, Green on this occasion, as he tries to force Lyon through the on-side.

47th over: South Africa 148-9 (Rabada 7, Ngidi 2) Cummins replaces Starc and immediately invites Rabada to fend off a delivery heading into the left-hander’s ribs from around the wicket. Ngidi then defends from the crease, stepping to leg a fraction to show the full surface area of all three stumps. That movement is exaggerated next ball and it seems only a matter of time before the No 1 ranked bowler in Test cricket lands one full and straight and clatters the timber, but instead he fizzes a couple past the outside edge and wastes a bouncer.

46th over: South Africa 147-9 (Rabada 6, Ngidi 2) Lungi Ngidi averages four in Test cricket, and he gets halfway there with a thick outside edge that runs along the ground through gully. Lyon responds with a delivery that bounces prodigiously, with no shortage of turn into the right-hander.


WICKET! Nortje c Head b Lyon 0 (South Africa 145-9)

Gabba line, Gabba length, Gabba bounce, for Nathan Lyon, and it’s too good for Nortje who tries to get in behind and play down the line, but the ball cannons off the glove within reach of short-leg diving onto the track.

45th over: South Africa 145-8 (Rabada 6, Nortje 0) Rabada edges in front of second slip, then wafts at the chemtrails of a Starc thunderbolt. The South African then gets in an awkward position to hook and is fortunate not to glove behind. Australia think he has and REVIEW but DRS quickly determines there was no deflection. Searching for his 300th, Starc overpitches and Rabada retains the presence of mind to punish a crisp cover drive for a rare boundary.

44th over: South Africa 141-8 (Rabada 2, Nortje 0) Nortje props onto his front foot and dabs away a maiden from Nathan Lon. Lyon, by the way, is now the leading Test wicket-taker for 2022, with 41, ahead of England’s Stuart Broad (40) and Jack Leach (39).

43rd over: South Africa 141-8 (Rabada 2, Nortje 0) This is all getting very Sydney Thunder. Rabada should be Starc’s 300th but Head could not hold on at short-leg after the ball was pushed into his midriff only to pop out away from his grasp. Cricket Australia’s hierarchy must be getting on the phone to the MCG and SCG curators demanding some CEO pitches for the remainder of the series because it’s hard to see how the Proteas are ever going to put up a competitive total with this line-up.

WICKET! Verreynne c Smith b Lyon 64 (South Africa 139-8)

Starc now has 299 Test wickets at a tick over 27. Lyon is now up to 452 at 31.66 after another regulation edge to the safe hands of Steve Smith. Verreynne batted very well for his 64, but the lack of support around him has been alarming.

42nd over: South Africa 139-8 (Rabada 0)

WICKET! Maharaj c Smith b Starc 2 (South Africa 135-7)

For the fourth over in a row Verreynne takes an early single, exposing the weaker batter to the majority of the bowling. Starc steams in from around the wicket and after Maharaj squirts a couple down to third, he’s late on a full delivery and edges a regulation catch to Smith at second slip. South Africa need to revisit their selection policy in Melbourne.

41st over: South Africa 135-7 (Verreynne 63)

40th over: South Africa 132-6 (Verreynne 63, Maharaj 0) Keshav Maharaj is out in the middle. Kyle Verreynne must hope he can hold up an end while he keeps the scoreboard ticking over.


WICKET! Jansen c Green b Lyon 2 (South Africa 132-6)

Yeah, Marco Jansen is not a Test No 7. Treading water on two from 18 he launches a mow at Lyon, managing only to sky a top edge that Cameron Green does very well indeed to pouch at midwicket, following the ball into hands from high in the sky over his shoulder and into his mitts.

Decent pressure bowling since drinks from Australia, but that was a poor dismissal.

39th over: South Africa 131-5 (Verreynne 62, Jansen 2) Verreyne gets off strike with an easy single, which won’t upset Starc one jot. He shows why immediately, beating Jansen for pace and bounce outside his off stump. The giant South African looks an unconvincing Test #7 when placed against the calibre of lower-middle order batters in the modern game. Starc wastes his next three deliveries then switches from over to around the wicket, bowling full and straight, but Jansen is ready for it.

I would plan for day three, and then you can always go on day four too if you feel like it. There will definitely be walk-up tickets.


38th over: South Africa 130-5 (Verreyne 61, Jansen 2) Lyon continues with his line outside the off stump to the two right handers. There’s typical Gabba bounce, but the turn is slow. Verreyne has his eye in and uses his feet to milk a single. Jansen, not so much, but gets his telescopic front pad outside the line to minimise risk.

Thank you very much Geoff, although I’m not sure I’ll be excellent company today. I am tired and grumpy, and not a little hungover. Bah humbug.

Readers out there, don’t forget to readjust your email and Twitter radars for all your correspondence.

37th over: South Africa 129-5 (Verreyne 60, Jansen 2) Decent front foot defence by Jansen against Starc, scoring a run into the covers after blocking a couple. Goes back slightly as the bowler arrives, getting low into a crouch so that his height doesn’t have him too far from the ball.

He gets safely to drinks, which means that it is time for me to get out of here, and to leave you in the excellent company of Jonathan Partridge Howcroft.


36th over: South Africa 127-5 (Verreyne 59, Jansen 1) Nathan Lyon is back, to bowl only his second over of the day and probably hoping to get a third immediately after it. Verreyne tucks away a single, Jansen reaches out and gets a soft edge into the ground for his first run.


35th over: South Africa 125-5 (Verreyne 58, Jansen 0) Talk about adjusting the radar for Mitchell Starc. He goes from bowling to Bavuma, at 162 centimetres, to Marco Jansen at 207. Long, lean, lanky, stooping down over his bat like a Tim Burton animation. His first few balls he leaves Starc alone outside the line of the stumps.


WICKET! Bavuma b Starc 38, South Africa 125-5

Bowled! Mitchell Starc goes through Bavuma. Forward defensive shot, a bit of swing into him, almost through the gate, it would have missed off stump had it gone through cleanly, but it clips the inside edge of his bat. Back onto his leg stump. Beaten by movement and pace. Lovely bit of bowling and it brings success. A 98-run partnership comes to an end.

34th over: South Africa 123-4 (Bavuma 36, Verreyne 58) Three slips at last. Khawaja comes in to third, Smith second, Warner first. Green in the gully, Lyon at point. But Khawaja ends up at mid off when Verreyne comes onto strike via a Bavuma drive for three. And when Bavuma gets the strike back, the third slip stays gone and he has two out for the short ball, which Boland balls. This all seems a bit confused. Boland gets wided! Bavuma is about five foot tall, so it’s an easy mistake to make. And another single to follow. Six runs from a Boland over. That is heresy.

33rd over: South Africa 117-4 (Bavuma 32, Verreyne 57) Thrashed through the covers! Bavuma this time, getting enthused by what his batting partner is doing. That was Mitchell Starc’s first ball of a new spell. Follows it up by taking a run after hitting straight at Cummins at mid on, who tries a cute flick between his ankles towards the stumps rather than picking up the cricket ball.

32nd over: South Africa 112-4 (Bavuma 27, Verreyne 57) Another four through the cordon for Verreyne! Deliberate enough, reaches for it. Two slips, gully, backward point. I still think they could have another slip there. As we speak, Green has come a little finer, and Lyon at point a little further behind it. Boland is having to do some grunt work now, keeps a lid on things for the next five balls.

Half century! Verreyne 52 from 63 balls

31st over: South Africa 108-4 (Bavuma 27, Verreyne 53) Climbs into it! Short form Cummins and Verreyne really muscles a pull shot, hitting it high over midwicket rather than using the pace behind square. Lots of empty grass out there, safe shot. It raises his milestone with a four. He’s made one Test century, no other score about 39 until today, in his 19th innings. Got his career average above 30 as of right now. Averages over 50 in first-class cricket, it’s worth noting.


30th over: South Africa 103-4 (Bavuma 27, Verreyne 48) Bavuma facing Boland, beaten on the outside edge with the first ball, then plays his first really expansive shot as he chases a cover drive, not quite nailing it so he gets three rather than four.

25 minutes into the second session, and we’ve finished the 30 overs that we should have had in the first.

29th over: South Africa 99-4 (Bavuma 24, Verreyne 47) On he goes! Kyle Verreyne, that is. First ball of the Cummins over, smacks it over backward point for four. Then climbs into a pull shot, with two catchers in the deep, but it’s along the ground for a single. Bavuma jumps and takes a run off his hip. He’s playing his part in the pairing well. Stubborn player. Made runs against Australia in 2018, got stranded just short of a hundred in Johannesburg when he ran out of partners.

28th over: South Africa 93-4 (Bavuma 23, Verreyne 42) A watchful start from Verreyne in the Boland over, before trying a cut shot that gets stopped, then an on-drive that gets him a run. Verreyne still striking at 75 runs per 100 balls, that’s a good clip in the circumstances.

27th over: South Africa 92-4 (Bavuma 23, Verreyne 41) A fall for Cummins! Gets into his delivery stride and his back foot slips along the surface and straight out from under him. The crowd gasps as he goes down, but he’s straight back up. Lucky not to roll an ankle there as it folded under him. He’s a little tentative bowling the next ball, down in the 120s for speed. Gets back into the 130s thereafter. And nearly gets Verreyne! Cutting in off the seam, just over the stumps as the batter leaves. He’s not bothered though, getting forward to the next ball and again playing that shot with an open blade that has returned him a lot of runs in this innings. Three more to backward point. Bavuma is hit on the thigh pad, via an inside edge says the umpire, and collects two.

26th over: South Africa 87-4 (Bavuma 21, Verreyne 38) Back after lunch, and it’s a change of ends for Boland, operating with Stanley Street at his back as Cummins did during the first session. Verreyne is prepared to be positive straight away, getting forward to drive the first ball through the covers and race back for three. Bavuma sees out the rest, mostly leaving.

Lunch - South Africa 84 for 4

Something of a recovery for South Africa, after being asked to bat and then reduced to 27 for 4. Bavuma and Verreyne, mostly the latter, peeled off 45 runs in the last 11 overs of the session. They’re still in real trouble though – if one of these two gets out in the next session then you’d suspect Australia will wrap them up for under 200. The fightback must continue.

Scott Boland Average Watch: 9.86.

25th over: South Africa 84-4 (Bavuma 21, Verreyne 35) Not going into his shell just before lunch, Verreyne. Gets the strike from Bavuma, then reaches for a square drive and it’s another one that teases Marnus all the way to the rope, where again he dives and taps back but this time the batters spare him the indignity of running four while he does it. He had support from Lyon on that occasion, which sped up the ball’s return. Bavuma gets short width from Starc a couple of times which makes it easy to let go. That’s lunch!

24th over: South Africa 80-4 (Bavuma 20, Verreyne 32) Here comes Lyon after a long wait. Lunch is looming, probably just the one over for him. He’s bowling from the Stanley Street End, and Verreyne pulls out a reverse sweep third ball! Middles it through backward point. Then a quarter chance as he clips the ball to the other side of the wicket and it strikes Labuschagne on the shin pad fielding at short leg.


23rd over: South Africa 76-4 (Bavuma 20, Verreyne 28) Bavuma staying positive against Starc, hopping as he squeezes a ball down into the cordon, then driving through the covers for a couple. Odd that the Australians don’t have more slips in. Both batters keep looking to drive, they’re not scoring a torrent of runs to cover while doing so, and there goes another edge for four, this time off Bavuma.

22nd over: South Africa 70-4 (Bavuma 14, Verreyne 28) This batting pair keep playing to their strengths. Bavuma scampers a single, Verreyne reaches out and guides four runs between gully and slip. He’s counterattacked well, taking on Cummins.

“Just tuning in from Salvador in Bahia,” writes Cressida Evans, lamenting the number of South African wickets. “Any case, just saying checking in to say I’m keeping you company and thank you, as ever, for The Final Word with that there Mr Collins. Abraços and all that stuff.” Our pleasure. Nothing beats a good abraço – that’s a hug, for our non-Portuguese speakers.

21st over: South Africa 65-4 (Bavuma 13, Verreyne 24) Mitchell Starc is back. Another near run out! This pair have real problems, third time and still lucky. Verreyne plays to square leg, comes down as Bavuma starts, gets sent back, and his feet slip from under him as he tries to turn. Travis Head with one stump to aim at misses, but he had so much time. Could have run a couple of paces closer, or perhaps even Carey could have charged in to the stumps had he been sharper about it. I suspect maybe he hung back because he saw Head lining up for his hardest possible throw. He wouldn’t have reached the stumps but he might have got within a few yards for a relay throw. Verreyne survives, and gets a freebie from Starc outside leg stump that he clips away fine for four.

20th over: South Africa 61-4 (Bavuma 13, Verreyne 20) Shot, Bavuma! Gets width from Cummins, rocks back and slays the cut shot behind point. Punch and counterpunch, as Cummins follows up with an unplayable that goes past the outside edge, Bavuma in about six minds as to how to play it. Bavuma tries coming across the crease just a little so he can play Cummins to the leg side, and scurries through for a single. Verreyne does similarly.

19th over: South Africa 55-4 (Bavuma 8, Verreyne 19) Boland still jagging it all over the place off the seam. Whacks Bavuma on the body as it decks in, then Bavuma almost plays another drive but bails out and leaves the ball alone. Gets a single eventually off an inside edge.

18th over: South Africa 54-4 (Bavuma 7, Verreyne 19) Bizarre bit of fielding from Labuschagne! Grabs the ball at cover, then throws it into a huge vacant gap at midwicket and gives away another run. Lost his bearings completely. That doesn’t help Green, who then bowls a half-decent ball outside off stump, but Verreyne plays it deftly with an open face through deep third for four.

17th over: South Africa 47-4 (Bavuma 6, Verreyne 13) They’re scoring runs from Boland! Unthinkable. Singles, using the gap at cover to defend balls into before dashing off. But then, growing in confidence, Bavuma throws his hands at a drive and nearly nicks it.

16th over: South Africa 44-4 (Bavuma 4, Verreyne 12) A tidier over from Green for his second effort, a couple of singles from it but he’s not trying the bumper length anymore.

“Thought you might like to know that Brisbane is not in the tropics. I live in Townsville. Brisbane is the temperate south.” Thanks Matt Power – but if any shampoo with coconut scent in it can be called tropical, then I’m calling any place warm and full of palm trees tropical too.

15th over: South Africa 41-4 (Bavuma 3, Verreyne 11) A short leg in for Boland, as well as three slips and a gully. Bavuma knocks a single to the off side. Verreyne has a ball cut him in half, jagging back massively but going over the stumps. You can never rest against Boland when he’s in this groove.

14th over: South Africa 40-4 (Bavuma 2, Verreyne 11) Cameron Green into the attack rather than Nathan Lyon. Tries a short-ball approach, and Verreyne decides to take him on. Stays back and punts him over midwicket first, then reaches out and slashes over backward point! That carries all the way for six! Extraordinary shot, to get the power on it from that position. Suddenly Verreyne has 11 at a run a ball, where everyone else has struggled. Green gets better after that, bowling in the channel and having Verreyne playing unconvincingly.

This was prescient from Abhishek Chopra half an hour ago: “Maybe there’s still time for a quick introduction of Boland into the attack - movement at slightly lower speeds can be a handful on this track.”

13th over: South Africa 29-4 (Bavuma 1, Verreyne 1) Scott Boland bowls an over that, weirdly, doesn’t take a wicket. Not sure what happened there.

Scott Boland facts (as of before this over).

12th over: South Africa 29-4 (Bavuma 1, Verreyne 1) Nearly a run out! As Bavuma gets off the mark to backward point, there was a miscommunication with the batters, they bail out of the run, and Verreyne would have been gone if Lyon’s throw had gone to his end. Bavuma might have been gone too had the throw hit the striker’s stumps. It misses and they get an overthrow. Then another close one as Verreyne calls Bavuma through for a sharp single, Bavuma sliding into his ground at the striker’s end.

11th over: South Africa 27-4 (Bavuma 0, Verreyne 0) Boland gets his career bowling average back down into single figures. Currently 9.65, with 23 wickets in his fifth Test.

WICKET! Zondo lbw Boland 0, South Africa 27-4

He is unstoppable! Why take one wicket in an over when you take more? The Scott Boland method. Runs in, hits an off-stump line, moves the ball in a fraction, smashes Zondo on the knee roll, playing back. Zondo reviews but he’s not very tall, so that ball is hitting a fair bit of the bails over the top of middle stump. South Africa reeling!

WICKET! Erwee c Green b Boland 10, South Africa 27-3

Scotty Boland! You cannot keep him out of a game. Imposing figure with his broad shoulders and his big frame, thundering in with heavy footfalls. He hits a spot outside the left-hander’s off stump, gets left alone, and gradually works closer to that off stump with the next three deliveries. Fourth of the over, Erwee has to play given the line, skews it away off the edge, and Green uses his entire eight-foot frame to lunge away in the gully and snaffle it.

10th over: South Africa 27-2 (Erwee 10, Bavuma 0) Another belter from Cummins to follow, beating Bavuma’s edge. Has to adjust the length slightly given Bavuma’s shorter stature. An awkward leading edge follows, Bavuma twisting his body while defending and seeing the ball end up at cover. Steps into a drive, Bavuma, but can’t beat mid off. Another snorter from Cummins to finish, takes off from back of a length and then flies past the edge into Carey’s gloves.

WICKET! van der Dussen c Carey b Cummins 5, South Africa 27-2

There’s the right length from Cummins! His classic range, on a line of about three and a half stumps, a length to draw the batter forward while still leaving time to move away, and enough movement off the deck to take the edge. Click.

9th over: South Africa 27-1 (Erwee 10, van der Dussen 5) Solo at the Bolo! Here comes Scott Boland, with a huge ovation from the crowd as he is announced. And he has the rare experience of being driven for a boundary, Erwee driving straight from a fuller ball. The rest of the over is classic Boland though, testing them out on a good length.

8th over: South Africa 22-1 (Erwee 6, van der Dussen 4) Cummins again. How long will the opening spells be? Stanley Street End for the captain, who drops it back of a length to Erwee, defending up on his toes. Past the outside edge the next ball, Erwee dragging the bat inside the line, but the ball was a touch too short and thus doesn’t take the edge. Then a very tight leave, Erwee letting the ball go over his off bail, but again the length isn’t full enough. Easy to point out, hard to get right, as Cummins gets a touch too full from the last two balls and is driven. The first is saved at mid on, the second is not, and Erwee gets his first boundary!

7th over: South Africa 18-1 (Erwee 2, van der Dussen 4) Starc bowls wide of Erwee, then too straight and nudged square for another single. SA’s score has been progressing at a crawl, but Starc despite the wicket has produced a spell that has never looked threatening. Top shot from van der Dussen to follow, overpitched and allowing him to stop the bat dead after the most understated off drive, pushing forward, and it is timed so nicely that is speeds to the rope. Labuschagne puts in a great chase, a great dive, a tap back to save the boundary… and the batters run four anyway.

6th over: South Africa 13-1 (Erwee 1, van der Dussen 0) A brute from Cummins! First really good delivery of the innings, it spits off a length and zips past the outside edge as Erwee responds with a movement that is more flinch than stroke. Four balls into the over, Erwee gets forward and pushes a single to cover, finally off the mark.

5th over: South Africa 12-1 (Erwee 0, van der Dussen 0) Success for Starc to start the over outside the left-hander’s leg stump, then he repeatedly hangs the ball way outside the right-hander’s off stump after Rassie van der Dussen comes in. Doesn’t make him play.

WICKET! Elgar c Carey b Starc 3, South Africa 12-1

Ohhh, trouble for the visitors. That’s the shot that looked risky in Starc’s previous over, when Elgar poked down the leg side away from his body. He does the same this time, reaching for that line, off balance trying to catch up to the ball, and only succeeds in touching it through to the wicketkeeper.

4th over: South Africa 12-0 (Elgar 3, Erwee 0) A maiden from Cummins to Erwee, with the bowler getting the radar back on.

3rd over: South Africa 12-0 (Elgar 3, Erwee 0) There’s a half-hearted invocation of the third umpire to start the over, as Elgar squeezes a bump ball from the toe of his bat into the ground and then to slip. The Australians appeal so the umpires have to have a look, though the soft signal is not out. Elgar misses a prod down the leg side, then presses a couple of runs through cover point off the front foot. Runs off the bat add to their tally of… one.

2nd over: South Africa 10-0 (Elgar 1, Erwee 0) Pat Cummins with the new ball, something that doesn’t always happen when Hazlewood is in the side, and he’s off-line to Erwee to begin with. It flicks the thigh pad and runs away for four leg byes. Second ball? Same result! Back of a length and angling down from a right-arm line around the wicket.

Erwee stands upright in his stance, high backlift, and after those false starts Cummins gets the line right, the right-hander leaving and defending the rest of the over. Nine runs out of ten for extras so far.

1st over: South Africa 2-0 (Elgar 1, Erwee 0) We’re away, with Mitchell Starc from the Vulture Street end, and Elgar shifts across his crease to stab the ball away from just outside off stump. Less dramatic than Starc’s first ball of last year’s Test, the one that destroyed Rory Burns’ off stump.

So much for South Africa rests on Elgar getting them through the early overs. He blocks the next ball, then knocks a single to fine leg. Erwee is another left-hander, and he gets a short enough length to knock the ball off his hip, saved at midwicket by Head. Only from the final ball does Starc throw in that full swinging delivery, and it takes out Erwee’s leg. Knocks him over completely, after pitching outside the line of leg stump, and he gets a leg bye.

The skies have changed quickly this morning. Blue when I arrived, overcast when Cummins won the toss, now the sun is breaking through again. Things move fast in the tropics.

The national anthems round out the formalities. Both teams on the field, as per tradition, with large flags held parallel to the ground behind them. The reserve players and support staff ring the boundary, standing to attention with hands behind their backs as they have done for the duration.

The Welcome to Country is performed by Aunty Deb Sandy of the Yuggerah people, who asks everyone in the crowd to call out their names so that she can welcome them properly. A nice addition that I haven’t seen before. She also sends out condolences to the Wieambilla victims.

The ceremonial proceedings are about to get underway. There’s a ground-wide round of applause as a tribute to the two police officers who were killed not far from Brisbane earlier this week. It goes on over James Sherry’s attempts to resume speaking. There are representatives of the forces on the ground with him, and a minute’s silence follows as people remove their hats in a poignantly old-fashioned gesture.


As expected. South Africa go with the keeper at six and five bowlers, the first three of whom can bat decently. Australia go as unchanged as possible, with only Cummins returning for Michael Neser, and Boland retaining his position as first option off the bench.

South Africa
Dean Elgar *
Sarel Erwee
Rassie van der Dussen
Temba Bavuma
Khaya Zondo
Kyle Verreynne +
Marco Jansen
Keshav Maharaj
Kagiso Rabada
Anrich Nortje
Lungi Ngidi

David Warner
Usman Khawaja
Marnus Labuschagne
Steven Smith
Travis Head
Cameron Green
Alex Carey +
Pat Cummins *
Mitchell Starc
Nathan Lyon
Scott Boland

Australia win the toss and bowl

Innnteresting! Cummins must be thinking of putting England under the cosh on the opening morning last year. The pitch is very green, but it often is at the Gabba without providing much meaningful assistance. Still, SA have a sketchy batting line-up so maybe Australia can make inroads anyway. Batting second is historically not an impediment at the Gabba.

If you want a preview of today’s match and the series to come, here’s one I prepared earlier.

What’s happening in the middle? The South Africans have just finished an all-in game of some variety of volleyball, and now they’re doing ground fielding drills, running in to pick up balls being pinged at them along the turf. The Australians are more spread out: Smith and Khawaja doing slip catching, Starc and Green going through their run-ups, players throwing medicine balls or chatting to commentators. Mark Nicholas is back out on an Australian Test ground after those years with Nine, must be doing commentary for SuperSport I’m guessing. Pat Cummins has just left the field to get changed for the toss.

My name is Geoff, I’m at the ground keeping my eyes open for anything interesting. You can get in touch by emailing, or (while it lasts) on Twitter at @GeoffLemonSport.


Good morning from Brisbane. The sun is shining, the palms are swaying, the sky is paradise blue. It is a million miles away from the lead-up to the Ashes Test a year ago, when it rained Biblically for two weeks straight and I was starting to pair off lemurs and marmosets just in case. It is also very mild for Brisbane, which in summer usually has the heat and overwhelming humid of an armpit. I' am not a meteorologist, but presumably the cool summer system that has made the southern states into a frigid hellscape for the past few weeks has also had a gentling effect on the north, because nothing all week is forecast to get above the high 20s in temperature, and the humidity is relatively low.

That is the setting of the scene, if you’re watching along on television or reading along while doing other things, and wanting to know what the players are feeling. Which players? Those of Australia and South Africa, one of the strong rivalries in the small world of Test cricket, in their first series since the sandpaper business in 2018. Nobody remembers that, surely? It’s not like it has been in the news ever since.

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