With five wickets down and just 225 runs on the board after winning the toss and electing to bat on a placid pitch, Australia vice-captain David Warner was willing to concede the advantage to South Africa after an enthralling opening day of the four-Test series at Kingsmead in Durban on Thursday.
“We’re probably down two too many and we probably didn’t assess well enough for reverse-swing from about 24 overs. The stats suggest 280-290 is about par for the first innings here, but the pitch normally does something here. So anything above 300 would be great,” Warner said.
South Africa bowled with an impressive work ethic on a sweltering, humid day, with Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj the stand-outs both in terms of wickets (they took two each) and economy.
Philander dismissed Warner, who had played with more restraint than has often been the case in South Africa, where he passed 1000 runs in 18 innings during his 51 on Thursday, and the left-hander was good-natured enough to praise the seam bowler.
With wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock standing up to the stumps, Philander had Warner, stuck deep in the crease, caught at second slip with a delivery that bounced a bit more than the batsman expected.
“Vernon is such a skilful bowler, he just hits the spot every time, so you have to try and put him off his lengths. Then when the wicketkeeper came up, you have to make sure you keep your front pad more leg-side. But it was well-bowled, one had kept low just before the ball I edged, he worked me over and got me out,” Warner said.
Maharaj removed the other key batsman in the Australian line-up in captain Steve Smith (56), caught at slip with a delivery that was bottom-edged into the leg of De Kock, and the left-arm spinner put in a solid day’s graft in bowling 24 of the 76 overs delivered before bad light stopped play and taking two for 69.
It was a top-class effort in strangulation by the South African attack on what could have been a really tough day for them after they lost the toss.
“Kingsmead is always a pitch where you don’t have to go out and try things. If you can control the run-rate, stop the batsmen from scoring, then something usually happens. Obviously a lot of planning went into our effort today and to gain the reward is a very nice feeling. I just used the same approach as I’ve used from the start of my career – I don’t have a lot of variations, I just rely on the pitch for assistance,” Maharaj said rather modestly of his efforts in his first Test at his home ground.
Maharaj is only playing his 17th Test overall, but he already has the poise and confidence of a senior member of the side and being thrown the ball as early as the 11th over – the earliest a South African spinner has bowled on the opening day of a Kingsmead Test since the return from isolation – was a curve ball he handled with aplomb.
“With us having a four-man attack, I was bound to be bowling earlier than expected and I was happy with that, it was no problem. I just go about my business quietly and try and benefit the team. I’m happy to put in the hard work and I pride myself on my work ethic,” Maharaj said.