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Ken Borland

Half-day at the office for the Proteas, but already shaping to be toil

Posted on October 13, 2023 by Ken

It was not much more than a half-day at the office for the Proteas as they returned to action in the third Test against Australia, but it was already shaping up to be a day of toil as the home side reached 147 for two when bad weather stopped play at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday.

Only 47 overs were able to be played before the umpires controversially took the players off, for the second time, at 5.50pm, having earlier gone off at at 2.17pm local time. On both occasions the rain did then arrive, but the reluctance of the umpires to keep playing on a grey, overcast day was unfuriating.

That was far from the most contentious bit of decision-making on the opening day though. Shortly before the play was stopped, Marnus Labuschagne edged left-armer Marco Jansen low to first slip, where Simon Harmer seemed to have scooped up a fine catch.

Neither Labuschagne nor the umpires were 100% sure though, with third umpire Richard Kettleborough being called into play, the soft signal being out. Having watched numerous replays, the Englishman felt the ball had touched the ground, but the conclusive replay, zoomed in from the front, was strangely absent.

Labuschagne survived on 70, but five minutes later, the crucial replay suddenly emerged and showed that Harmer did get his fingers under the ball. One wonders why the host broadcaster could not have provided the telling replay when the TV umpire needed it.

Labuschagne added just nine more runs to his score before the lionhearted Anrich Nortje managed to drag some life out of a featherbed pitch, a phenomenal delivery with pace, bounce and away-nip being edged behind. His luck certainly turned as the umpires took the players off the field straight after his dismissal.

Usman Khawaja was playing a classy opening batsman’s knock with 54 not out, showing plenty of fine judgement in his stroke-selection, but also effectively putting away anything loose as he collected six fours. Steve Smith had just come to the crease but had not faced a ball yet.

Khawaja and Labuschagne added 135 for the second wicket in impressively efficient fashion, taking charge after lunch as they added 70 runs in 15 overs. In the morning session, Khawaja and Labuschagne had been focused on getting in and ensuring the advantage of winning the toss and batting on a dry, easy-paced pitch that offered little movement, was not squandered.

Nortje had been the supplier of South Africa’s other wicket on the first day, David Warner (10) edging high to Jansen at first slip as he played a rather loose slash outside off-stump.

The Proteas pacemen gave little away with the new ball, but the task became ever harder for them. Spinner Harmer provided some anxious moments for the left-handed Khawaja and he and Keshav Maharaj could be the key bowlers for the rest of the innings.

Harmer has replaced Lungi Ngidi in the attack, while South Africa have brought in Heinrich Klaasen for Theunis de Bruyn, who returned home for the birth of his first child.

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