An inspired bowling performance from Cameron Green has put Australia in a commanding position at stumps on day one of the Boxing Day Test against South Africa at the MCG.
The West Australian all-rounder, who was picked up for a record-breaking $3.15 million Indian Premier League contract this week, claimed career-best figures of 5-27 in Melbourne, demolishing the Proteas’ tail with a blistering 26-minute spell in the evening session.
South Africa was rolled for 189 in the first innings on Monday, their seventh-consecutive score of less than 200, with Australia 1-45 at stumps, still trailing by 144 runs.
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Australian captain Pat Cummins once again won the toss and elected to bowl first, a decision that raised eyebrows considering the pitch was considerably less intimidating than last week’s green seamer at the Gabba.
Proteas skipper Dean Elgar and opening partner Sarel Erwee survived an opening burst from Cummins and Mitchell Starc before local hero Scott Boland snared the first breakthrough for Australia, luring Erwee into an extravagant off-drive and edging towards the slip cordon.
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Theunis de Bruyn, returning to the South African Test side following a three-year hiatus, scratched his way towards 12 before miscuing a pull shot off Green, with wicketkeeper Alex Carey settling underneath the catch.
The dismissal sparked a horror collapse of 3-1 before the lunch break, with Elgar run out for the first time in his Test career courtesy of a direct hit from Marnus Labuschagne at mid-off.
Temba Bavuma edged behind the following delivery to give Starc his first wicket of the match and leave South Africa in dire straits at 4-58.
The Proteas’ woes continued after the lunch interval, with Khaya Zondo slapping a loose cover drive towards Labuschagne at extra cover, who claimed an impressive catch low to his left.
Marco Jansen and wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne then combined for a 113-run partnership to stem the flow of wickets and briefly revive the innings.
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The duo set about pulling off an unlikely rescue mission, frustrating the Australians and surviving until tea, albeit with some assistance from Usman Khawaja.
Jansen miscued a pull shot while facing the penultimate delivery of the afternoon session, with Khawaja grassing a relatively simple chance at backwards square leg.
The rearguard continued after the tea interval – the pitch had flattened and the Kookaburra had lost its shine, allowing Jansen and Verreynne to play with more freedom.
But after they each passed fifty, Green’s onslaught commenced.
Verreynne and Jansen edged behind for 52 and 59 respectively before Rabada chopped back onto the stumps for 4.
“He’s a bit different to the other three guys,” Verreynne told reporters at stumps.
“Obviously he’s so tall, so he gets quite a bit of bounce … and I felt like he’s got the ability to shape the ball as well.
“He offers a bit extra there … they get to use him in short bursts, so he can just run in with a lot of energy, and as a batter, you’ve got to make sure that you’re switched on for those periods.
“It’s a luxury that they have.”
Green then knocked over Proteas tailender Lungi Ngidi to claim his maiden Test five-wicket haul in front of 64,876 adoring spectators, who gave the youngster a rousing applause as he returned to the sheds.
South Africa had lost 5-10 in 24 balls. Green had taken 4-7 in 12 balls.
“That’s cricket summed up,” Green told reporters at stumps.
“You can have a really slow start to the summer and think cricket’s so tough and then you have a few days like this, and it brings you back.
“It’s probably still hasn’t sunk in now. It’s a very special feeling, and I’m sure I’ll remember that for a very long time.”
Australia’s innings got off to a horror start when Usman Khawaja edged behind for 1, falling victim to Proteas paceman Kagiso Rabada.
But veteran opener David Warner, playing in his 100th Test match, and Australian No. 3 Marnus Labuschagne guided the Aussies to stumps without further damage.
Australia will resume on day two at 1-45, with Warner and Labuschagne unbeaten on 32 and 5 respectively.
Australia XI: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland
South Africa XI: Dean Elgar (c), Sarel Erwee, Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Khaya Zondo, Kyle Verreynne (wk), Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi
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