Australia v South Africa Tests – Men
After three straight home series defeats to South Africa, Australia will take an unassailable 2-0 lead to Sydney after a dominant MCG display
Andrew Ramsey at the MCG
29 December 2022, 03:49 PM AEST
Australia defied a mounting casualty toll and a slightly less daunting South Africa batting effort to seal an emphatic win by an innings and 182 runs in the second Test and claim the NRMA Insurance Series against South Africa with the prospect of even greater rewards awaiting next year.
Steve Smith wrapped up the win shortly before 3.30pm when he bowled last man Lungi Ngidi with a looping leg break, ensuring victory with four sessions to spare after the series opener in Brisbane was decided inside two days.
A comprehensive win signed off in a comprehensive manner! #OhWhatAFeeling #AUSvSA | @Toyota_Aus pic.twitter.com/aYwiEWpZ9c
Smith's second Test scalp in more than six years robbed teammate Nathan Lyon of finishing as 2022's leading Test wicket-taker in his own right, with Lyon's 3-58 today seeing him complete the year with 47, equal with South Africa's Kagiso Rabada.
David Warner was deservedly named player of the match and given the Mullagh Medal for his courageous 200 amid enervating heat in his 100th Test, but it wouldn't be unreasonable argument to suggest the prize should be shared with Australia's medical and fitness staff who were kept frantically busy through all four days.
Australia further consolidated their place at the head of the ICC's World Test Championship, and should they complete a clean sweep at the SCG next week they are assured of reaching the Championship final at The Oval in June next year.
Even a 0-4 loss in India in February-March won't be enough to prevent them reaching their first WTC play-off, with their likely opponent being either India or Sri Lanka.
South Africa had embarked on this tour in second place on that table, but despite their high-quality pace attack have been exposed for the frailty of top-order batting even though they managed today to pass 200 for the first time in eight completed Test innings.
Today's score of 204 all featured another couple of calamitous collapses, including 3-18 in a decisive first session today and 4-30 in less than nine overs to complete the capitulation.
Not since the summer of 2001-02 – when Australia completed a 3-0 whitewash by margins of nine wickets, 10 wickets and 246 runs – have the Proteas been so comprehensively outplayed on this side of the Indian Ocean.
Indeed, that one-sided campaign and the one that followed in Australia four years later provided a catalyst for South Africa's resurgent performances against their southern hemisphere rivals that saw them win consecutive series here in 2008-09, 2012-13 and 2016-17.
But as one-sided as the first two NRMA Insurance Tests have proved, they haven't come pain-free for Australia.
With all-rounder Cameron Green unable to bowl due to a small fracture in his right index finger, and Mitchell Starc operating under duress with a tendon injury to his left middle finger, Australia's bowling stocks looked to have been further depleted when Lyon went down soon after lunch.
Lyon dived full length to his left at backward point in a bid to catch a slashing square drive from the bat of Kyle Verreynne, but failed to get a finger to it and instead landed heavily on his side with non-bowling arm fully extended.
The famously resilient off-spinner, who is playing his 92nd consecutive Test without sustaining any injury of significance, immediately clutched his left shoulder in obvious pain and shortly after left the field accompanied by two members of the team medical staff.
But he returned to the fray barely 10 minutes later, by which time Verreynne had himself been removed when trapped lbw by Scott Boland.
South Africa's top-scorer at the Gabba had loomed as a final barrier between Australia's bowlers and South Africa's elongated tail, but his attempt to have the on-field decision overturned through video evidence proved as unsuccessful as much of the tourists' batting to date.
Then when Lyon reappeared at the bowling crease, it took him just six balls to make a more profound impact by having Marco Jansen pinned lbw although it took a judicious review from Australia – one of two shrewd DRS calls today – to claim the breakthrough.
From there, the end came with unsettling haste as today's top-scorer Temba Bavuma (65) was involved in a second needless run out of his own orchestration and then threw away his own wicket with an injudicious swipe.
Having burned Khaya Zondo in the first session, Bavuma sacrificed Keshav Maharaj who set off for a third run as his senior batting partner performed some sort of improvised dance move at the bowler's end and sent back his fully committed teammate.
🗣️ "This really is schoolboy stuff…" 🗣️ "That's not desperate enough…" 🗣️ "He's absolutely BBQ'd his mate." – Ricky Ponting on Keshav Maharaj's run out #AUSvSA pic.twitter.com/NyttMfKflf
That Maharaj was able to almost the entire length of the pitch twice before Starc's throw (on relay from Marnus Labuschagne in the deep) rifled into the stumps with the batter just centimetres short suggested there was certainly a third run to be had.
Eight balls later, Bavuma was able to debate that premise with Maharaj in the dressing rooms when he launched an ugly heave at Lyon and skied a catch to substitute fielder Marcus Harris (on the field for Green) at mid-on.
Bavuma now holds the unwanted record of the worst conversion rate of 50-plus scores to centuries among all Test batters to have posted at least one hundred, with his sole century among 20 half-centuries representing an abject rate of 4.7 per cent.
The 32-year old's sole three-figure score came against England at Cape Town in 2016 – his eighth Test innings – but he's failed to repeat the achievement in 83 visits to the wicket since then.
And his surrender signalled another hasty end for his team, whose final four wickets tumbled at pace.
Australia might have started their pursuit of a first home series Test win over the Proteas at four attempts with the fourth-highest first innings lead they've held over their fierce rivals, but somebody clearly forgot to impart that information to Pat Cummins.
The Australia skipper started his spell as if the match were on a knife-edge, sending down four consecutive maidens before finally conceding a run at the start of his fifth and even that came from a no-ball rather than batter intervention.
It was an entirely different story for last year's MCG second-innings hero Boland, who went for 10 from his opening over today which was at odds with an economy rate of barely two per over across the first five and a half Tests of his career to date.
But while South Africa's second-wicket pair were finding runs, it wasn't always with conviction.
Theunis de Bruyn was especially unconvincing, with edges off Starc falling marginally short of Smith at second slip and then tantalisingly above the outstretched fingertips of Usman Khawaja at gully.
However, it was opener Sarel Erwee who began the now traditional South Africa slide when he was pinned by a laser-like yorker from Starc that he did his level best to stymie and in the process convinced umpire Paul Reiffel he'd made contact with his bat before the ball slammed into pad.
After considered consultation, Cummins reviewed the verdict and even more forensic DRS process found – using a combination of infrared 'hot spot' and real-time 'snickometer' – that Erwee's left foot was the initial contact point that prevented the ball smashing into leg stump.
Erwee then used that same boot to kick the turf in frustration before beginning his walk to the pavilion, setting in motion something of a procession as the visitors crashed from 1-47 to 4-65 in 10 telling overs.
Having twice been warned by Starc for backing-up too enthusiastically at the non-striker's end before the ball was delivered, de Bruyn fell in the manner that seemed inevitable when he edged Boland to second slip.
Despite the visage of Labuschagne floating in front of him before he clasped the chance securely in both hands, Smith claimed his 150th catch in Tests with only Ricky Ponting (196), Mark Waugh (181), Mark Taylor (157) and Allan Border (156) ahead of him on Australia's all-time list.
Smith could also lay claim to having indirectly created the breakthrough, given the fielding effort he executed the delivery before de Bruyn fell.
When Bavuma guided Boland past the slips for what seemed a certain boundary, Smith gave frantic chase and launched himself to prevent the ball reaching the rope and thereby reduced the damage to three runs.
It also meant de Bruyn was on strike for the follow-up, which Smith duly pouched.
Perhaps it was Bavuma's burning wish to recoup that lost run which caused him to call for a kamikaze single soon after, handing Travis Head a gift he could hardly have foreseen on his 29th birthday.
Bavuma pushed Cummins to cover and immediately scampered for a run, catching his partner Zondo off-guard as he lolled in his crease at the bowler's end in precisely the way de Bruyn hadn't.
Head swooped on the offering, aided by a kindly co-operative bounce, and had sufficient time to take aim and underarm into the striker's end stumps with Zondo abandoning any hope of making his ground.
The air of resigned defeat Zondo took with him as he left the field, with South Africa still 321 runs adrift of forcing their foes to bat a second time, symbolically reflected the Proteas' least competitive Australia visit in more than two decades.
Men's NRMA Insurance Test Series v South Africa
First Test: Australia won by six wickets
Second Test: Australia won by an innings and 182 runs
Jan 4-8: Third Test, SCG, 10.30am AEDT
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Lance Morris, Nathan Lyon, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner
South Africa squad: Dean Elgar (c), Temba Bavuma, Gerald Coetzee, Theunis de Bruyn, Sarel Eree, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Heinrich Klaasen, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Lizaad Williams, Khaya Zondo
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Australia seal series with innings thrashing of Proteas – cricket.com.au
Australia v South Africa Tests – Men