Australia’s six-wicket defeat in the first
one-day international in Pretoria overnight was a reversal of form so complete
you could be forgiven for thinking the two teams had changed clothes on the
trans-Indian Ocean flight.

Adam Gilchrist, who before last night had
lost only one of ten games as captain, surprised and delighted locals by
choosing to bat on a damp Centurion pitch in drizzly conditions. A top-order
collapse put Australia under pressure immediately, with Clarke, Hussey and the long Australian
tail only just dragging the visitors to a defensible score of 229.

The Aussies then proceeded to drop catches,
misfield and mismanage their shallow bowling attack like, well, South
Africa in Australia. The symmetries were everywhere: Gilchrist fails
early with the
bat, putting pressure on the middle-order just like Smith in Australia;
Smith returns to form with a dominating 119 which leads his side to a
pressure-releasing victory, just like Gilchrist’s 116 in Perth during
the VB
Series. The form in the field was exactly reversed, with South Africa
pulling down acrobatic catches and scurrying around the boundaries,
while the seriously under-prepared Shane Watson dropped a
sitter
and consistently failed to get his hands on the ball.

Graeme Smith spoke with such measured
confidence before the game, in such contrast to his erratic, abrasive
statements on tour, as to suggest that the captain we saw in Australia
was an impostor.

By comparison, the Australians
played like
men who had been woken by sheep at dawn.
With Ponting, Andrew Symonds and Stuart Clark on the injury list,
Australia fielded its only available eleven.

Symonds at least will return for the next
match on Friday, but the real problem is with the strike bowling. Clark is the pick of the
inexperienced bowlers, and without him Mick Lewis and Mitchell Johnson (between
them six overs, 0 for 53) aren’t cutting it.

Back home, Phil Jaques,
Jason Gillespie and
South Australian ING Cup final man-of-the-match Shaun Tait must be wondering how bad it will get before the selectors call.

Peter Fray

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