Travis Head gives Australia command against South Africa after Warner’s duck

Test match cricket erupted during the southern summer as 29,306 turned up for the biggest non-Ashes crowd ever hosted at the Gabba. He was treated to a sizzling first day: Australia dismissed South Africa for 152 just before the tea break, slumped to 27 for three in reply, produced a stunning counter-attack from Travis Head and Steve Smith, then lost Smith and nightwatchman Scott Boland to the stumps. on 145 for five, still seven runs behind.

It was another Brisbane special from Head, who followed up his Ashes century a year ago with a carefree 78 not out from 77 balls in the final over. Smith has already started on a positive note, hitting his first ball over cover for four and producing some immaculate straight shots.

In half a dozen overs together before the third drinks break, the two took stock and then plundered 69 runs in eight overs after the break. Head raised his 50 to better than a run a ball thanks to Lungi Ngidi’s six over backward square leg. It was bewildering for a South African attack that was right at the top, and suddenly he started swimming waywardly, offering him width to punish.

The session started with a bang, Kagiso Rabada continuing his 2018 duel with David Warner by lobbing a short ball on his ribs, aiming the opening bat over the head of short leg where Khaya Zondo climbed into the air for a one-handed catch. It was only Warner’s second golden duck in his 181-innings career and the first to start an innings.

Marnus Labuschagne cut off Rabada and Ngidi but fell to the first ball from the tall left-arm bowler Marc Jansen and edged over it to Dean Elgar at slip. Anrich Nortje’s pure pace was evident in a delivery that bounced off Usman Khawaja’s bat arm and into the gully. Head ran into the cordon soon after, but just short of Elgar.

It was the only near-miss in his innings as he continued to slice up the bowling. In all, he and Smith added 113 in 23 overs, threatening to take over the game completely. But Nortje rallied for the next burst, driving the ball extravagantly from the seam to cut through Smith’s bat and dismiss the middle stump, for 36. Boland did his job and batted into the final over before scratching Rabada to set up the end of the ball. game day and saving Cameron Green for the trip to Wednesday.

Australia's David Warner is dismissed for a duck off the first ball of South Africa's Kagiso Rabada delivery.
Australia’s David Warner is dismissed for a duck off the first ball of South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada delivery. Photo: Darren England/AAP

South Africa are still in the game so far, although another hour of Head in the morning would be too much. That’s more than they might have hoped for after scoring 152 in the first innings. The Gabba pitches may be much better for batting than they appear, but as fast bowling captain Patrick Cummins has been happy to send the visitors through. A green surface, some cloud cover and a chance to try out their fragile batting while also delaying their bowling power: everything pointed to that decision.

Elgar fell early and nudged the ball from Mitchell Starc to the wicket of Alex Carey. Cummins had radar issues but removed Rassie van der Dussen as soon as he fixed them and hit a perfect line and length to draw the nick. Then it was Boland who took a couple of wickets in the over as has become his signature, lowering his career bowling average to 9.65 after Sarel Erwee was caught at gully before hitting Zonda’s pad in front of middle stump.

At 27-4, a rescue came through a 98-run partnership between Temba Bavuma and wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne. Verreynne, who has only reached 40 once in an 11-match career, attacked with freedom, pulling Green for four and smashing him for a six to start, repeatedly finding the fence with cuts and slips through the cordon. He made 64, Bavuma knocking singles and playing a supporting hand with 38.

After lunch, Starc broke the connection and swung over the defensive inside edge onto Bavum’s leg stump. Next up was Nathan Lyon who took three wickets in 15 balls with no runs to his name. There was a miraculous turn and rebound, setting up a set of four byes and helping Lyon get Nortje off the glove. Smith’s catch to dismiss Verreynn at slip was his 52nd since Lyon, surpassing Shane Warne and Mark Taylor as Australia’s most prolific bowler-outfielder combination.

Smith also had Keshav Maharaj caught for Starc’s 299th Test wicket, but when Starc had Rabad push the inside edge to short leg, Head juggled and lost the catch. Cummins cleaned up Ngidi, last six wickets down for 27 runs. South Africa knew they needed something special to bounce back. So far they have produced exactly half. The way Head plays, the second morning should be as lively as the first.

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