South Africans check Australian ambition

Dale Steyn of South Africa celebrates dismissing Australian captain Michael Clarke during day two of the Third Test Match between Australia and South Africa
Dale Steyn of South Africa celebrates dismissing Australian captain Michael Clarke during day two of the Third Test Match between Australia and South Africa

THE sleeping giant of this Test series has finally woken and Australia have been left flat on their backs. Dale Steyn likes to combat the general assumption, and the findings of the ICC rankings calculator, that he is the finest fast bowler in the world. Don't believe him.

Modest by nature, menacing by trade, Steyn had not exactly been a flop since turning up here a month ago. He captured only the one wicket in Brisbane, but discreetly snaffled four in Adelaide.

On Saturday the real Steyn stood up, and not even he could talk down the gem that snared Michael Clarke for five. The South African pace frontman produced the key punches as Australia, entering day two of the deciding third Test with their noses in front, were quickly shut down. It was Australia's worst day out since Hobart last December.

Clarke's team lost four wickets in the first half-hour of play, three at the hands of Steyn (4-40), to fall to 6-45, a total that made the Proteas' first-innings 225 appear titanic.

Dark memories of Cape Town last November flashed back. A feisty 68 by Matthew Wade and debutant John Hastings's 32 averted disaster but Australia were rolled for 163, their aspirations to pinch South Africa's top ranking suddenly wavering.

By mid-afternoon Australia's hole was becoming far deeper. There was momentary brightness after tea when Mitchell Johnson completed a brilliant caught-and-bowled dismissal of Alviro Petersen for 23.

Johnson, having clobbered into the shoulder of the opener's bat, lunged forward at the skied ball, scooping it up like a porcelain vase about to hit the living-room floor.

However, Graeme Smith (70 not out) and Hashim Amla (78 not out) then set about driving ambitious Australia out of the match and series, taking command and impersonating Clarke and David Warner in Adelaide as they travelled at more than seven runs an over in the last session.

Mitchell Starc was chiefly in the firing line, going for 50 runs in six overs as Amla's stats sheet - he raced to his fifty in 37 balls - read more like a Twenty20 basher than a noted Test accumulator. With nine wickets remaining, South Africa were one for 178, 240 runs ahead. If Smith and Amla kicked Australia when they were down, it was Steyn who had knocked them over. From the outset he looked in the mood to cause trouble. Upstairs, Dennis Lillee was walking the aisles of the media centre. He would have been proud of this devilish display, professing his affinity for ''chin music''. The bouncers, flying off a lively WACA deck, weren't the primary concern for Australia, however.

It was Steyn's probing length and late swing that took care of a recklessly swinging David Warner (13) then nightwatchman Nathan Lyon in the third over.

The off-spinner had been mistaken for Ricky Ponting when he was sent in late on Friday, sparing the retiring 37-year-old the twilight tightrope walk against South Africa's fired-up attack.

As it turned out, Lyon's seven was more than Ponting could manage. A near full house in Perth had gathered, riding every ball in their hope that the champion ex-captain could walk away on top. What they got instead was an anti-climax; on four, Ponting was trapped leg-before with an off-cutter by Steyn's off-sider, Vernon Philander.

Steyn then went in for the kill. His prize was Clarke, the biggest fish in the sea of world batsmen at the moment. It took the best ball of the series, by anyone, to hook the Australian captain and it worked, turning Clarke inside out on five.

Mike Hussey and Wade put on 55 together, most of them from the Victoria gloveman's blade, to ease the pain but when the veteran left-hander nicked Morne Morkel on 12, Australia were back in deep trouble. Wade withstood everything thrown at him and took to left-arm orthodox Robin Petersen, hitting three sixes in a run-a-ball fifty. He later combined with state teammate Hastings before being undone sweeping by the man he had been slogging.

This story South Africans check Australian ambition first appeared on Canberra Times.