Innovative hosts play a different ball game

As in Bodyline, there were two teams out on the Adelaide Oval and only one was playing Test cricket. That was South Africa, who batted with intense concentration, defended hard and bowled to a persistent program, delivering the ball where it was most likely to deviate. They were dogged and methodical to a fault.

Australia, meanwhile, were playing a different game altogether. As in Brisbane, their scoring rate bubbled along as if this was one-day cricket, only interesting. In three innings this series, they have scored at a rate of 4.39 runs an over - 1382 runs off 315 overs. South Africa, by contrast, have scored at the more God-fearing 2.83 runs an over in Brisbane and 2.87 in Adelaide. Not stodgy, just traditional.

The difference doesn't only reflect the fact that South Africa have needed to defend in both of their second innings. That has been a consequence, rather than a cause. Australia could also have been pressed into defence when 3-40 in Brisbane and 3-55 here, and in their mini-crisis on Sunday morning, but on each occasion they have responded with counter-attack. Even as wickets tumbled in the second innings here, the tail wagged in the manner of a working dog whose owner has just come home. There was nothing hesitant about it.

Australia's fast run rate has moved each game along speedily towards at least the hope of a conclusion. In Brisbane, their ability to stimulate the tempo almost delivered a result in four days. Here, it has made a high-scoring match stay ahead of the likelihood of a draw.

Their run rate was helped in Adelaide by facing Imran Tahir, a good bowler who, as was once said of a government, lost his way. Tahir bowled more good balls than will be registered by the scoreboard. All of his bad ones, on the other hand, are in the scorebook. Michael Clarke let him twist in the breeze long enough to record the worst overall figures for a bowler in a Test match.

Tahir might take some solace from falling well short of Arthur Mailey's most expensive first-class figures, 4-362, which, Mailey said, would have been a lot better if two catches hadn't been dropped by a man in the pavilion wearing a bowler hat. For poor Tahir, not even Adelaide's construction workers were getting anywhere near it.

The sad consequence is that South Africa may be frightened off wrist-spinners for some time to come. Paul Adams begat many years of Paul Harris, and it would be a shame if Tahir's bowling here left such a legacy.

Australia owe much of their hyperactive run rate, of course, to the attitude of Clarke and Michael Hussey. But it is not only their batting that has been non-traditional. In the field, some funky field placings and experimental bowling choices have made up for the loss of James Pattinson and given an air of bluff and cajolery to the Australians' play. They have clearly, in the parlance, out-enthused South Africa.

There was a telling sequence in mid-afternoon, when Hussey was mobbed in the field by pretty much everyone in the Australian team except the physio. What had he done? He had stopped a Hashim Amla drive in the covers.

Heaven help him if he takes a catch, or for that matter drops one, given the current fashion for rushing up to pound the buttocks and ruffle the hair of anyone who makes the slightest mistake in the field, by way of encouragement. The day is coming when a fielder who drops a sitter is chaired from the ground. But the Australians' convergence was the sign of a team that has maintained high energy, despite the heat, and wants to show it.

By contrast, Jacques Rudolph played pat-ball to half-volleys for the best part of an hour. There was nothing wrong with this: he had done it before, defying Australia for a seven-hour 102 in Perth a few years ago. Rudolph bats like an old-fashioned Test cricketer. Only this time, he eventually played a shot and was caught by Ed Cowan.

There was a referral, of course. Few dismissals now pass without one. But this has its advantages too. For the fielding team there are two celebrations for the price of one, first when they take the wicket and then when it is confirmed. For the spectator who has been dozing, it's a boon, for he or she can partake in the spontaneous joy of the third umpire's verdict.

Not that sleep has been easy to come by. This Australian team continues to provide invention and surprise, the contrast with their opponents gives the game a nice, watchable texture. There has been plenty of cricket in all 12 sessions of this match. There may still be a little bit more.

This story Innovative hosts play a different ball game first appeared on Brisbane Times.