Australia showed patience on a sluggish pitch and against a stubborn Dean Elgar to take two late wickets and reclaim control over South Africa on the first day of the second test on Thursday. Spinners Nathan Lyon, who took 2-47, and Steve Smith removed Elgar for 83 and Quinton de Kock cheaply on debut in the final session to have the hosts 214-5 when bad light stopped play at St. George’s Park.
The visitors had initially reduced South Africa to 11-2 but then had to absorb pressure itself when Elgar shared a century stand with Faf du Plessis (55) and half-century partnership with AB de Villiers, who was 51 not out. “Test match cricket is all about patience,’’ Lyon said.
South Africa found some solace from Mitchell Johnson’s slower pace on a sleepy seaside pitch, to be 181-3 at one point, but Elgar threw away his wicket and a second test century trying to heave offspinner Lyon down the ground.
The 21-year-old De Kock, flown in on Wednesday night to make his debut, tried to do the same in the first over from legspinner Smith and was caught at mid-off for 7 and trudged back to the pavilion utterly despondent.
“It’s pretty much the slowest I’ve seen PE play,’’ Elgar said, praising the Australians’ persistence. “They stuck to their game plan the whole day.’’
Earlier, No. 1 test batsman De Villiers, the one South African to resist the lethal performance from left-arm quick Johnson in Australia’s 281-run win in the first test, resisted again and has now made half-centuries in 12 consecutive tests, a record.
Du Plessis and Elgar made half-centuries, with Elgar responding to the challenge of opening after Alviro Petersen was ruled out by illness on the morning of the test.
Du Plessis was out to Lyon for 55, but his 112-run stand with Elgar lifted the South Africans from real trouble early on when fast bowlers Ryan Harris and Johnson initially pounced on a shaky buildup by the home team, which had problems naming its team because of Petersen’s illness and a late injury to bowler Vernon Philander and was uncertain of its lineup until minutes before the toss.
Elgar had already been in line to replace injured allrounder Ryan McLaren, but South Africa pushed him up to open and brought in De Kock after Petersen’s late viral infection. Wayne Parnell was recalled for spinner Robin Peterson and bowler Philander passed a fitness test on a tight right hamstring just minutes before the toss, with South Africa captain Graeme Smith finalizing his team with a pen and paper in a frenzied few minutes out in the middle just before choosing to bat under heavy cloud cover.
With South Africa in early disarray, Harris and Johnson struck, with Harris extracting seam movement off a fairly grassy surface to send Smith back lbw for 9. Johnson had Hashim Amla, also lbw, for a duck and Australia had South Africa under grinding pressure again in the muggy and overcast conditions.
The South Africans didn’t completely subdue Johnson but they found the going much easier on the south coast after their first-test nightmare against the fast bowler on a cracking surface up in Centurion.
Elgar and Du Plessis managed Johnson more than dominated him, with Elgar hit on the upper arm and on the shoulder by short-pitched balls from Johnson. He took a painstaking 20 balls and 42 minutes to score his first run, but gritted it out and later unleashed two sixes off Lyon as he passed 50 for the second time in tests.
Brief scores: SA 214/5 in 83 overs (D Elgar 83, F du Plessis 55, Ab de Villiers 51*; N Lyon 2/47, S Smith 1/18, R Harris 1/36)