Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood were certainly bossing the game for the hosts at that point when they reduced the Proteas to 32/4 in the 13th over. The fact that the visitors went on to win the contest by 177 runs is nothing short of amazing, but there remains a concern that an implosion at the top of the Proteas batting unit is not consigned to the realms of the fantasy world.
Much of this apprehension centres on the form of WACA second innings centurion Dean Elgar’s opening partner Stephen Cook. The experienced right-hander has yet to find his feet – literally and figuratively – here in Australia despite putting in the extra work with Proteas batting consultant Neil McKenzie.
The pair are often seen in consultation before, during, and after training as they try to find a way for Cook to not only build some confidence out in the middle, but also a means of getting the scoreboard to move along.
It is here where the primary area of Cook’s problems lay. Not only has the Highveld Lions captain not passed 20 runs – which included a first innings four-ball duck at the WACA – thus far on the tour, he has also not been able to keep up the tempo of the innings.
Cook is never going to be a free-scoring batsman like Australia’s David Warner at the top of the order, but he must find a way of transferring the pressure on to the Australian bowlers. The 33-year-old looked composed at the crease for over an hour in the second innings and faced all off 55 balls. However, he only managed 12 runs at a strike-rate of 21.81, and was dismissed at the first instant of attempting an aggressive stroke when he was caught at short mid-wicket playing the pull shot.
Elgar, though, believes his opening partner who scored a century on Test debut at the beginning of the year against England, will be eager to right his wrongs here in Hobart on Saturday.
"I'm sure if I was in that position I'd be a bit frustrated because as a player in this environment you want to make a contribution. And I know a guy who's just started his international career wants to make a big play for South Africa," Elgar told a media conference on Thursday. "Everybody shares his frustrations. As his opening partner, I share his frustrations with him. I am frustrated on his behalf. Hopefully he can feed off the good form of us winning the first Test and make a big play for us in the second Test."
South Africa does have Rilee Rossouw in reserve here if a change-up is needed, especially as the left-hander provides a contrasting option due to his natural attacking instincts. The uncapped Rossouw was also recently in sparkling form against the Aussies during the preceding ODI series at home where he was named Man of the Series after the 5-0 whitewash.
Elgar is well acquainted with Rossouw’s ability with duo having been long-time franchise teammates at the Knights before the former moved up north to join the Titans. Six years ago with Rossouw still only 20 years old and Elgar only 23 too, the two southpaws re-wrote the South African record books with a second-wicket partnership of 480 in only 85.1 overs – it was also the highest partnership for any wicket beating the 441 of Eastern Province’s Carl Bradfield and James Bryant set in 2002-03. Rossouw’s contribution to the record was a career-best 319 off only 291 balls with 47 fours and 8 sixes.
However, it should also be remembered that Cook too etched his name into history during that 2009-10 season by posting a marathon 390 from 645 balls, which is still the highest score in South African first-class history.
"Rilee is a different dynamic player. He's a bit more of a middle-order player. He's not really an opening batsman. His role is a lot different to Cookie," Elgar said. "He will bring in another dynamic of aggression. That's the way he approaches his cricket. I don't think Rilee is going to be needed just yet."
Linda Zondi and his fellow selectors are unlikely to make a batting change for Saturday’s second Test here with possibly only Kyle Abbott coming in for the injured Dale Steyn. It certainly is a much healthier position to be in than their Australian counterparts who are in the midst of on-going battle with their high-performance sports science team.
The relationship has deteriorated to such an extent that the local media were treated to a briefing here at the Bellerive Oval on Thursday to officially clarify the situation after coach Australian coach Darren Lehmann and selector insisted the “the final decision on whether a bowler plays or not is made by the selectors in consultation with the individual concerned”.
Starc and Hazelwood will therefore lead the Australian attack again, despite the former being at "high injury risk" according to medical data with the uncapped Joe Mennie set to join them in the absence of the injured Peter Siddle. Opening batsman Joe Burns will also come back into the side after Shaun Marsh was ruled out the series after sustaining a broken finger at the WACA.
The important numbers of the Bellerive Oval
· 0: South Africa have never played a Test at this venue.
· 1: Australia have only lost once in 12 Tests here.
· 2: JP Duminy and Hashim Amla are the only current SA players to have played here before.
90%: The chance of rainfall on both Saturday and Sunday here at the Bellerive Oval.
· 449: The highest partnership at the ground between Adams Voges and Shaun Marsh.
· 581: Tasmanian legend Ricky Ponting has the most runs at this ground.
· 18 149: With a population of only 226 750 people in Hobart, the record attendance at the ground is 18 149 fans for a BBL match last year.
Likely teams for Bellerive Oval
Australia: David Warner, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (capt), Adam Voges/Callum Ferguson, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Neville (wk), Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood, Nathan Lyon, Joe Mennie.
South Africa: Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott/Morne Morkel.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (Eng) Aleem Dar (Pak)
Start time: 1:30am (Saturday morning); TV: SS2
Independent MediaProteas opening batsman Stephen Cook has yet to find his feet – literally and figuratively – in Australia despite putting in the extra work with batting consultant Neil McKenzie.
Original source: Elgar backs Cook to come good