Australia crush South Africa in Melbourne to clinch series

It wasn’t even a contest as Australia defeated South Africa in the second Test on Thursday by an innings and 182 runs to clinch the series, the first win at home against the Proteas since 2005-06.

As expected, there wasn’t any miracle on the fourth day of the Melbourne Test with the tourists bundled out for just 204, again showing the fragile nature of the South African batting lineup.

Previously, South Africa had three consecutive series victories in Australia and they go to Sydney with their World Test Championship (WTC) final hopes hanging by a thread. They must win the final match of the series to stay in contention for the final.

The most worrying thing for South Africa is that they are even able to stay at the crease and apply themselves – the basic principle of Test cricket. In Brisbane, their two innings had lasted for 48.2 and 37.4 overs respectively and the numbers for Melbourne are 68.4 and 68.5 overs. However, they managed to post 200+ score for the first time after seven innings.

Temba Bavuma was the only batter to reach a half-century and his 63-run fifth wicket stand with Kyle Verreynne was the only partnership that grew to over 50. No other South African scored more than Verreynne’s 33.

Nathan Lyon enjoyed the most success among the Australian attack and finished with 3 for 58. Scott Boland was also among the wickets with two scalps. Meanwhile, Pat Cummins bowled 16 overs and only conceded 20 runs.

On the other hand, Mitchell Starc bowled with a damaged middle finger and repeatedly had to mop up blood from his opening wound. As a result and despite being without Cameron Green, Australia only required two overs from Steven Smith’s part-time legs pin. It was he who finished the match, bowling Lungi Ngidi, to end the Shane Warne Test in fitting style.

South Africa would be particularly disappointed with their two run-outs and the number of soft dismissals. Even to the uncritical eye, there were several batters who could have made better choices in shot selections or stance and the means by which they were removed suggests the deep-set problems in technique and mindset in the line-up remain.

Dean Elgar was the first to be dismissed, on the third evening, when he chased a Cummins delivery off his hip down leg and edged behind. That was the second time in the series Elgar had been dismissed in the same fashion.

Sarel Erwee has also been guilty of going out the same way: most often by driving loosely outside the off stump but appeared tighter in the second innings. He worked his way to his highest score of the series – 21 – before he was hit on the toe by a Starc yorker in front of middle and leg. Cummins reviewed and ball-tracking confirmed the delivery would go on to hit the stumps which gave them their first wicket of the morning.

At the other end, Theunis de Bruyn was unconvincing as the new No 3. He inside-edged Cummins short of Alex Carey, outside-edged Starc short of Smith at second slip and nicked Boland short of third slip. His luck ran out when he slashed Boland over the slips before his luck ran out. He was kept on the back foot and edged a back of a length Boland delivery to second slip, where Smith took the catch despite Marnus Labuschagne diving across him.

It was up to Bavuma and Khaya Zondo to rebuild but they struggled to get going and frustration got the better of their stand. They scored just three runs from 29 balls between them when Bavuma called Zondo through for a single after pushing Cummins to mid-off. Zondo responded but Travis Head’s throw to the striker’s end was quick and accurate and found him well short of his ground.

South Africa’s last recognised batting pair – Bavuma and Verreynne – took them to lunch and presented the best opportunity to push back. Verreynne brought out his shots immediately and was off the mark with a reverse sweep off Lyon. He was hit on the knee roll by a Boland ball that nipped back into him and was given out LBW, only to review in vain.

Jansen was also dismissed LBW when he missed a Lyon ball and was hit on the back pad and it took a well-judged review by Cummins to confirm the ball would go on to hit the top of leg stump.

With only the lower-order to bat with, Bavuma was involved in another mix-up when he and Keshav Maharaj attempted to run three off a Starc delivery that Maharaj pushed into the covers. Bavuma was hesitant to take the third run but Maharaj was committed and was halfway down the track when Starc fired in a throw at the non-striker’s end to run him out.

In the next over, Bavuma slog swept Lyon to the right mid-wicket where Marcus Harris, the substitute fielder, took a simple catch. If there was a shot that served as a metaphor for South Africa throwing in the towel, that was it.

Kagiso Rabada also fell to a slog, when he hit Lyon to mid-on. Ngidi had a bit of fun and slammed his first six in Test cricket when he smoked Lyon over midwicket and then brought up the South African 200 when he found the gap past long-on. While he and Anrich Nortje pushed South Africa into an extended post-lunch session, they were never going to last too long and Ngidi was bowled five minutes before the interval would have been taken.

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