CAPE TOWN: Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins transformed the first day of the third Test against South Africa with a devastating four-wicket spell at Newlands on Thursday.
Despite an unbeaten 121 from Dean Elgar, South Africa were on a shaky 266 for eight at the close in a pivotal match in the bad-tempered four-Test series. The teams are locked at 1-1.
The hosts looked in command when they reached 220 for two, with Elgar and AB de Villiers scoring at better than four runs an over in a third wicket stand of 128.
It all changed when Cummins came back into the attack in the 63rd over and with his fifth delivery induced a false shot from De Villiers, who drove him to mid-off after scoring 64.
It was the start of a superb spell in which Cummins took four wickets for 12 runs in eight overs to finish the day with four for 64.
“We spoke the whole day that if we got one wicket we felt if we got that opportunity we could get two or three pretty quickly,” said Cummins.
He added that he felt “pretty ordinary in my first ten overs,” but was then a different bowler.
“I felt like I had a pretty good rhythm going and the ball was swinging consistently. Most of the balls were landing where I wanted them.”
Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc followed up with two late wickets. When Keshav Maharaj drove Starc to cover, South Africa had lost six wickets for 37 runs — and lost control of the match on the best batting pitch of any of the Tests South Africa have hosted against India and Australia this season.
Opening batsman Elgar had scored 106 when De Villiers was dismissed and batted with more fluency than usual.
He reached his century off 178 balls with 16 fours and a six but opted to go back on the defensive as wickets fell around him. By the close he had faced another 75 balls after reaching his hundred and only added one more boundary.
It was Elgar’s 11th Test century and his second against Australia. On 61 he reached 3 000 runs in Tests.
“It (the pitch) was by no means flat, although it might have looked that way when AB was batting. The older ball was reversing and it was tough out there, especially for a new batter.”
That said, Elgar admitted that at tea he had been thinking South Africa were on target to score 380 or 400.
Having come straight from a shower to a press conference, Elgar said he hadn’t had much time to gauge the mood of his teammates but he acknowledged: “There are probably some who feel disappointed, but it’s what you do after your disappointment that matters.”
Elgar said he expected batting to get more difficult and thought that with good carry from the surface and the possibility of reverse swing, conditions could be “perfect for our bowlers to exploit”.
Earlier, Elgar and Hashim Amla (31) stabilised the innings with a second wicket partnership of 86 off 174 balls after Josh Hazlewood had Aiden Markram caught at second slip by Australian captain Steve Smith for nought.
Hazlewood struck again when Amla was caught at fine leg soon after lunch. He also had Elgar dropped at backward point by Nathan Lyon when the batsman was on 53 and four runs later hit Elgar on the helmet during a sustained spell of fast, short-pitched bowling.
De Villiers, the leading batsman in the series, looked comfortable from the start and made his 64 runs off 95 balls with ten fours.
Cummins then had both Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma caught at second slip by Smith for five and one respectively before Quinton de Kock got a bottom edge to an attempted pull and was caught behind for three.