Saturday, November 24, 2012
Adelaide 2012: Day Three
Going into Day Four it seems we're back to two possible results with the prospect of a genuine nail-biter lurking just on the other side of the horizon.
Of course, as is so often the way with these things, having said that we'll probably see things very close to wrapped up today with a comprehensive victory to one side or t'other early on Day Five, but that's the nature of the beast, isn't it?
A 273 run lead with five wickets in hand means an Australian victory is going to depend on how many runs Clarke, Hussey and Wade can chip in with, and how well Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Lyon can bowl. From the South African side of the fence it'll come down to the size of the run chase and how well their top order fares against a depleted bowling attack that's minus one of the key strike weapons.
Take that Protea formula and scrutinise it closely and it'll come down to how quickly they can get rid of those three bats and how well those three bowlers are allowed to bowl. Smith and Amla are class players, Petersen and Du Plessis look like they've got potential and Kallis and de Villiers might have question marks over the fitness level but they've got class on their side and plenty of time if the leg and the back can hold themselves together.
Oh, an Rudolph can bat a bit as well.
Looking back on Day Three, you can see the turning points pretty clearly. Rudolph and Smith went early, de Villiers, Steyn and Kleinveldt didn't stick around, Kallis and Du Plessis added the runs that took the Proteas out of follow on territory (not that it was ever going to be enforced) and then, once the initial breakthrough had been made Steyn, Morkel and Kleinveldt lived up to the pace attack pecking order and made the Australian supporter rather glad Philander and Kallis weren't part of the equation.
Looking forward, everything's going to come down to the amount of pressure that can be exerted in the first session. That, I think, will determine the result and dictate how long it's likely to take. If two out of those three bats are still there at lunch with the lead around 350 you can probably rule the South African victory out of calculations, though a quick run through the tail after the resumption would make things interesting.
Chasing around 400 in four and a bit sessions in circumstances where Clarke, Hussey, Warner and Quiney are going to be doing their share of the bowling would appear quite doable when you've got Smith, Amla and Kallis likely to spend a lengthy spell at the batting crease.
The key factor, from what I can see, is going to be the old DRS, which is going to figure increasingly in the calculations as things get tighter and tighter. That's an interesting one, because regardless of the intention when it was introduced it's now a significant factor in determining the outcome of a particular match. Sure, it might have been meant to eliminate the howlers, but nowadays it seems equally important as a second chance to knock over a batsman, or for a batsman to avoid being knocked over.
You used to rely on the umpire's competence, eyesight and judgement, working on the principle that mistakes will eventually even themselves out. Everyone on the field has hid own take on the merits or otherwise of a particular decision, and I'd like a dollar for every time I've seen an inconsistent response to what could be seen as an umpiring mistake.
There were a couple of times when I signalled Byes in a kids game, only to be informed that the batsman had hit the ball. Fine, was my standard reply, if the keeper had caught it I would've given it Not Out. That usually seemed to remove the grievance.
Equally interesting was the response from a notoriously temperamental senior cricketer in Bowen who had never, ever, been dismissed LBW. In a situation where the batting side provided the decision maker you couldn't help feeling there was a bit of bias entering into the equation and I always suspected that when this bloke got rapped on the pads the benefit of the doubt might have gone to the bowler, even though the decision usually came from one of his team mates.
If that seems strange, I was sitting beside the rest of his side when the finger went up on one occasion and noted the hilarity with which the decision was greeted, though I also noted the group scattered as he made his way back to the side line.
When he was bowling, of course, anything that went anywhere near the pads was Out by definition, and a decision to the contrary was usually followed by a remark about large amounts of money influencing the decision.
Things are likely to get rather tense in Adelaide over the next twenty-four hours, and it'll be interesting to see what happens when Smith, in particular, gets a verdict he doesn't agree with. He obviously wasn't happy with the referral that cost him his wicket being turned down, and in a situation where a clear head will help the decision making process it's easy to be distracted by issues that you can't, in the long run, do very much about.
The outcome of the next two days will have a lot to do with focus and careful management of resources, and no one will be wanting to get distracted.