The aim was for SA A to make Australia uncomfortable, but Australia’s fast bowlers made their statement of intent in Benoni on Thursday.
While they did not exactly run roughshod over SA A, Pat Cummins (4/32) and Josh Hazlewood (3/40) ensured Australia had some batting time on day one. They helped bundle SA A out for 220 in 58.5 overs before moving to 87/3 in 26 overs at stumps.
Usman Khawaja (22), Peter Handscomb (0) and Steven Smith (23) were the wickets to fall. Khawaja and Handscomb fell to injudicious shots off Duanne Olivier while the captain was out-thought by Malusi Siboto. Cameron Bancroft (24) and Shaun Marsh (10) ensured that Australia did not lose any further wickets.
However, the day belonged to the Australian pace trio. Having last played a first-class match in January in the fifth Ashes Test against England in Sydney, Cummins, Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc bowled a combined 37 overs to get themselves into decent shape for next week’s first Test in Durban.
The disappointing part about SA A’s knock were the starts that were not converted. Theunis de Bruyn (46), Zubayr Hamza (44), Rudi Second (21), Senuran Muthusamy (36) and Wiaan Mulder (29) all looked promising on an easy paced surface.
Except for De Bruyn, who was wrongly dismissed off a Hazlewood short ball that came off his shoulder, the rest threw their wickets away.
Muthusamy’s wicket on the stroke of tea was perhaps the most galling of them all as the left-hander had seen off all the threats before he decided to waft at a loose Mitchell Marsh delivery. Tim Paine gleefully snaffled the catch to leave the hosts teetering at 203/6.
The last four wickets could only raise 17 runs. Having lost Pieter Malan early to Cummins, Hamza and De Bruyn fashioned a sparkling 82-run second-wicket stand that should have extended beyond lunch if it was not for De Bruyn’s dismissal.
The Knights captain batted with thinly veiled intent, with 36 of his runs coming in boundaries. With the Test squad due for announcement during the course of the game, this was the perfect opportunity for him to remind the selectors why he needs to be given a chance.
Australia batsman David Warner expects SA’s bowlers to be smarter against him than they have been in the past when the touring side play four Tests against the Proteas in March.
The 31-year-old opener was named man of the series when Australia last toured this country in 2014, having driven the visitors to 2-1 victory with 543 runs at 90.50.
He aims to contribute with big scores again but warned it will not be a straightforward task against a world-class Proteas bowling attack.
"I’ve really got to embrace it again and still stay hungry for those runs," Warner, who led Australia’s Twenty20 outfit to a tri-series win on Wednesday, told reporters.
"It’s a couple of years on [since SA toured Australia in 2016]. They’re going to be smarter and work out where to bowl to me from the series that they did at home.
"They’re going to challenge me in areas where I’ve been getting out. I’m prepared for what they bring and I’ve just got to make sure I’m in the right mental state and I play each ball on its merit," Warner said.
He expects a stirring contest against SA’s fearsome pace bowlers Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Morné Morkel.
Additional reporting, Reuters