LIVE: Starc cleared to play on, Warner takes stage –

Australia v South Africa Tests – Men
Not content with a first Test century in almost three years, David Warner continued to 200 before retiring hurt in his 100th match for Australia
Andrew Ramsey at the MCG
27 December 2022, 06:53 PM AEST
In contrast to the stifling summer heat that forced him to be helped from the field with both legs seized by cramps, David Warner's lengthy Test century drought burst with a deluge that delivered perhaps the most remarkable of his many memorable innings.
Australia ground a dispirited South Africa into the dust on day two of the second NRMA Insurance Test, due largely to Warner's 200 that ended in dramatic scenes with the opener so affected by the hot weather he was compelled to retire hurt and effectively carried from the field after almost six hours batting.
The hamstring cramps he had battled for much of his second hundred proved too debilitating for him to continue, though he'll surely want to reprise his knock by resuming at the fall of the first wicket tomorrow.
By stumps, after a procession of players had been led from the field by medicos, Australia were 3-386 with a lead stretched to 197 although it's unclear how many fit bowlers they will be able to summon in their victory push in coming days.
On a day of attrition, speculation grew Australia quick Mitchell Starc will miss next week's third Test in Sydney after damaging his left middle finger in a fielding mishap, and first innings bowling hero Cameron Green also forced to retire hurt after being hit while batting this evening.
Green was struck on the right index finger by a short ball from South Africa's fastest bowler Anrich Nortje, which drew blood from the first knuckle and will cast doubt over his capacity to bowl in the second innings given – as with Starc – the injury is to his bowling hand.
In the shadow of stumps, Proteas new-ball bowler Lungi Ngidi limped to the sheds after also suffering cramp to a hamstring.
And Nortje himself was another struck down during an oppressive day, although the blow copped by South Africa speedster was the result of overhead conditions of an entirely different nature.
Having clocked bowling speeds in excess of 155kph in his spell immediately after lunch, Nortje was taking a deserved breather in the outfield when he was blindsided by the cable-suspended 'spidercam' whose eagle eye for on-field happenings is clearly not matched by self-awareness.
While Nortje emerged unscathed from the incident, in which he was struck around the chest by the low-flying hardware and momentarily sat on his haunches, the incident will surely require closer examination and provided a thumbnail sketch of the Proteas' fortunes in the series to date.
Warner and Steve Smith had piled pain upon the hapless visitors who were defeated inside two days at the Gabba, forging a third-wicket partnership of 239 from 337 balls before Smith fell immediately after a much-needed drinks break.
The former captain could scarcely believe he had squandered a chance to post his second Test ton of the summer when, on 85 from more than four hours at the crease, he tried to lift a short ball over the slips and provided a simple catch to gully.
Smith was so unimpressed with his lapse that he marched from the field holding his bat by the blade and did not acknowledge the suitably warm applause from the crowd of 42,614.
In their 82nd Test together, Smith & Warner – the pre-eminent batters of their era for Australia – finally share a double century stand #AUSvSA
But they soon had a rousing reason to cheer at full voice, as Warner deftly guided Ngidi through the slips cordon to the boundary and immediately sunk to his knees in exultation, a brave move given his ever-tightening hamstrings meant he was no sure thing to become upright again.
Warner's unbeaten 200 was the first double-century by an Australia batter in a Boxing Day Test since Ricky Ponting's 257 against India in 2004, and is the third 200-plus score of the opener's gilded career that now sees him the nation's seventh-highest runs scorer.
But it came at a cost, due to a combination of Warner's frenetic scampering between wickets early in the day and the enervating heat in the centre of the MCG that ensured plastic chairs were brought out for Australia's batters during the more frequently scheduled drinks breaks.
Warner began feeling the effects of cramp soon after celebrating his hundred midway through the day, and was forced to seek medical attention to his left hamstring as he prepared to face up to spinner Keshav Maharaj when on 124.
While it didn't prevent him from piling on runs in a frantic final session, with he and Smith clubbing 83 from 11 overs immediately after tea as the Proteas wilted, the 36-year-old was constantly stretching and grimacing as Australia's lead pushed past 100.
It was the brave attempt to launch his now habitual leap on reaching 200 that ultimately achieved what South Africa's bowlers could not and brought Warner's innings to an end, albeit voluntarily with the option of returning to the middle at the fall of a wicket should need and fitness dictate.
Given other challenges he's overcome and the adversity he's often stared down, it was only fitting his 25th Test hundred – and his first since January 2020 – came amid significant obstacles.
The most onerous was Melbourne's savage burst of summer heat that saw temperatures hover around 36C for much of the day, and left the effervescent opener racked by cramps for which he had to guzzle down foul-tasting pickle juice tonic.
The other slightly less oppressive foe was South Africa's bowling, which only seemed to cause Warner angst when the ball was in the hand of Nortje whose regular busts of 150kph-plus stood in stark contrast to his teammates' often desultory efforts.
When he was a few runs shy of his half-century, Warner was struck a glancing blow on the helmet by a searing Nortje bouncer that skimmed off the lid and flew to the fine leg boundary prompting celebratory cheers from the crowd who believed the milestone had been reached before leg byes were signalled.
Warner underwent an extensive examination from the Australia team medical staff before resuming his innings, at which point his seeming eagerness to post 50 brought about the only wicket to fall in more than four hours of fruitless toil for the visitors.
The breakthrough came in the only way that seemed likely given Australia's batting dominance and because of Warner's helter-skelter approach to running between wickets from ball one this morning – via a run-out.
In defiance of the established cricket cliché, Warner called for a second run after he and Marnus Labuschagne scrambled for a cheeky single and a resultant shy at the striker's end of stumps was fumbled by the fielder backing up.
Warner immediately saw the opportunity to steal a second and hared down the pitch, oblivious to the fact Labuschagne had been forced to stretch for his ground in making the initial run and was metres beyond the batting crease by the time he turned and saw his partner hurtling at him.
Rather than send back Warner and risk him being run out in his milestone Test, Labuschagne selflessly set off for the questionable run and was demonstrably distraught at being found a metre or so short of his ground at the bowler's end.
Aggressive running had been a feature of Warner's batting in the opening hour, and the pace duly slowed somewhat when joined by Smith given the earlier calamity and the energy-sapping heat.
Smith was uncharacteristically subdued in struggling to find his groove, and had scored just nine from the first 30 balls he faced when offered a life that he gratefully seized.
An attempted pull off Kagiso Rabada – South Africa's sole wicket taker across the first two sessions – grazed Smith's batting gloves but carried on the full to keeper Kyle Verreynne who got his left mitt to the chance but was unable to grasp it.
It was an emblematic moment for an often lacklustre South Africa attack on a pitch that was playing truly if slowly, and batter's mistakes were as rare as cool breezes on a steaming afternoon.
Warner's innings was largely blemish free apart from the run out, although on 72 he aimed an expansive drive at Ngidi and a resultant inside-edge passed perilously close to leg stump on its way to the fine leg rope.
Another all-run boundary soon after saw Warner reach 8000 Test runs, having scaled that peak in his 100th appearance with the only Australia players to have achieved in fewer games being his batting partner Smith (85 Tests) and another left-handed opener Matthew Hayden (92).
He then joined another exclusive club in the hour after lunch when the re-introduction of Rabada – who had dismissed his Australia rival in his past five Test innings – yielded a first-ball bouncer that Warner pulled fine for four to reach a memorable century.
Warner's trademark leap, defiant roar to the former bay 13 section (now the foot of the Shane Warne Stand) and extravagant kiss blown in the direction of the MCG media box was justifiable given the build-up to the moment, and the emotion of the occasion.
Former skipper Ponting is the only other Australia player among the 14 to have played 100 Tests who can claim a ton in his centenary outing, and it’s doubtful his double of 120 and 143no – also against South Africa, at the SCG in 2006 – was more noteworthy that Warner's double-ton.
Men's NRMA Insurance Test Series v South Africa
First Test: Australia won by six wickets
Dec 26-30: Second Test, MCG, 10.30am AEDT
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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