The top order again failed to deliver for South Africa as Australia bundled them out for 189 the first day of second at MCG, Melbourne, on Monday in two sets of collapse separated only by a 100+ runs stand for the sixth wicket.
Meanwhile, the fragile nature of South African batters can be gauged by the fact that they were bowled for under 200 for a seventh successive innings in Tests.
By the time the pay came to an end, the host, in their reply, had reached 45 for the loss of Usman Khawaja who caught behind by wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne on the bowling of Kagiso Rabada. He managed just 1 run in 11 balls.
Accompanied by Marnus Labuschagne (5), David Warner – who is playing his 100th Test which makes him 14th Australian to reach the milestone – was not out on 32.
Earlier, Pat Cummins won the toss and elected to bowl, given the known weak batting lineup of the visitors. And the Proteas proved him right barring the two fifties by Verreynne and Marco Jansen in 112-run sixth wicket stand.
They had lost for four wickets for 58 by lunch, including Dean Elgar 26, Sarel Erwee 18, Theunis de Bruyn 12 and Temba Bavuma 1.
Elgar was dropped on 7, when he offered Cummins a return catch, and on 19, when he gave Green a tough chance at point. He played and missed several times but dug in and survived and the stage seemed set for him to grind out a good knock.
But it wasn’t long before familiar batting problems reared their head. Erwee drove loosely against Scott Boland and was caught at third slip to be dismissed in that fashion for the 10th time in 16 innings. New No 3 de Bruyn, who replaced Rassie van der Dussen, seemed in good touch and hit Green for two straight drives down the ground but then misjudged Green’s length and top-edged a pull.
That brought South Africa’s two most experienced hands, Elgar and Temba Bavuma, together but they were separated 10 minutes before lunch. Elgar pushed Mitchell Starc to the right of mid-off, where Marnus Labuschagne was quick onto the ball. He turned and released in one move and fired in a direct hit to find Elgar short of his ground and run him out for the first time in Test career. The ball after that, Starc found Bavuma’s edge with a ball that tailed away as he prodded at it and had him caught behind.
In the post-lunch session, Khaya Zondo succumbed to another moment of Marnus magic. He stepped out to drive Starc past mid-off but found Labuschagne, who took an outstanding leaping catch to end his innings.
But at 67-5 and staring at humiliation a partnership formed. Verreynne struck a classy 52, backed up by 59 from Marco Jansen, and for a long spell in the afternoon it looked like an authentic Test match might break out amongst the crapshoot. But after a stand worth 112, the final five wickets fell for ten runs in four overs.
Undeterred by the severity of the situation, Verreynne and Jansen took the fight to Australia and their approach could well be a blueprint for South Africa to follow in future. Verreynne was particularly severe on the short ball while Jansen drove well and they were both proactive against Nathan Lyon’s off spin.
But the central protagonist in that second collapse was all-rounder Cameron Green (5/27). He earned his first Test five-for by putting the old ball in the right areas often enough for the Proteas to engineer their own downfalls.