Australia completed a six-wicket victory within two days in the first Test against South Africa on Sunday as the Proteas crumbled on a green Gabba wicket that played into the home bowlers’ hands.
Skittled for 152 on day one, South Africa were routed for 99 shortly after tea on day two, leaving Australia needing just 34 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Proteas paceman Kagiso Rabada claimed four quick wickets to leave Australia 24 for four in a bizarre finish but Marnus Labuschagne (five not out) and a scoreless Cameron Green survived as the hosts stumbled over the line.
By far the highest score in Australia’s second innings of 35 for four was the 19 in the extras column, as Rabada and fellow paceman Anrich Nortje pushed too hard and sent balls flying over the wicketkeeper to the fence.
Anrich’s final ball went over Green’s head for five byes to bring up the winning runs.
Australia captain Pat Cummins took 5-42 in South Africa’s second innings and seven wickets for the match, while fellow paceman Mitchell Starc celebrated his 300th Test wicket with a trademark inswinging yorker that bowled Rassie van der Dussen for a duck before lunch.
But questions will be asked of a pitch that saw 19 wickets fall on day two, after 15 tumbled on day one.
South Africa captain Dean Elgar, who managed only five runs for the Test, made his feelings clear.
“It was challenging for the batters, no doubt, which is OK if it’s a good contest between bat and ball,” said the opener.
“But obviously on the flip side I don’t see it as a fair contest.” Australia’s cricket pundits were scathing of the wicket, which quickened on day two and became pock-marked with divots as the match wore on.
“There’s just been too much variation in favour of the bowlers,” former Australia captain Allan Border said on Fox Sports’ coverage, rating the pitch a “three out of 10”.
Australia spinner Nathan Lyon was more charitable.
“The wicket, everyone’s probably saying it’s probably too much but it just shows the quality of bowlers that are running around out here,” he said.
It was only the second Test win in Australia in two days, the other nearly a century ago when the hosts beat the West Indies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground during the 1930/31 series.
Australia’s batsmen handled the conditions marginally better, with Travis Head named Player of the Match for scoring a swashbuckling 92 before the hosts were bowled out before lunch for 218 in their first innings.
Head rated it one of the most challenging innings he had played.
“The (Australia) bowlers did an incredible job to keep the chase low,” said Head, who was caught behind for a duck in the second innings.
Australia had South Africa at three for two by lunch, then 66 for seven by tea on day two, with only Temba Bavuma (29) and Khaya Zondo able to conjure resistance.
The pair combined for a 42-run partnership before Lyon trapped Bavuma lbw.
Zondo battled on to finish 36 not out after running out of partners.
Australia’s third seamer Scott Boland hastened the Proteas’ defeat by dismissing wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne and all-rounder Marco Jansen for ducks in three balls.
South Africa will wonder what might have been had they set Australia another 50 runs to chase.
As it was, they gave Australia’s struggling opener David Warner another blow to his confidence before the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, with Rabada having him caught in the slips for three after dismissing him for a duck on day one.