A frustrating first day of play in the third and final Test match between Australia and South Africa has drawn to conclusion with bad light and rain delays hampering the action throughout as the hosts eventually finished on 2/147.
The Proteas removed David Warner early and threatened to finally provide a stern test until a 135-run partnership between Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne steadied the Aussies and gifted them a solid foundation upon which to build on at the SCG.
The forecast before the match focused on whether or not rain would severely impact upon play, yet it was bad light that actually caused the most havoc with players repeatedly taken from the field as the Test struggled to gain any semblance of momentum.
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The morning got off to an unusual start under gloomy skies when Matt Renshaw returned from his exile, alongside Ashton Agar, only to be stationed on his own in the line-up during the national anthem having tested positive for Covid only moments before.
The former opener, who was making his first Test appearance for Australia in five years, was brought into the side as the No.6 batter, while cult hero Scott Boland was replaced by Josh Hazelwood in an unfamiliar bowling attack.
Australian captain Pat Cummins maintained his 100% record at the toss for the series, electing to bat on a pitch which is expected to facilitate plenty of spin in the latter stages.
Warner started aggressively and picked up a boundary off the first ball he faced, before he came unstuck when his attempted cut shot was edged straight to slip off an Anrich Nortje delivery.
It was a quality start from the visitors who made the Aussies toil at the crease, yet this game state was soon blown to pieces.
Khawaja and Labuschagne combined for a healthy second wicket stand which turned up the heat on Dean Elgar and his captaincy as his field placements and rotation of his bowlers were called into question.
On a slow surface in Sydney, Labuschagne brought up his 14th Test 50 in 33 matches, while Khawaja passed 4,000 Test runs on the way to his half-century; correctly reviewing an lbw dismissal which actually contacted his glove in the midst of an attempted slog sweep.
“He’s scored four boundaries in the last three minutes – five fours off his last 12 deliveries,” Ian Smith enthused on Fox Cricket as Labuschagne suddenly began to accelerate after a sedate spell up to lunch.
“I’m astounded at the captaincy,” Mark Waugh declared as South Africa’s bowling attack struggled to match the lift in intensity.
“I can’t believe [Simon] Harmer is off and [Keshav] Maharaj is still on. I don’t understand the tactic.
“I thought Harmer looked good. He was getting some drift, some spin. He’s been taken off. Maharaj hasn’t looked like getting a wicket and he’s still bowling.”
Although after cruising to 70, Labuschagne faced a spell of adversity when he was almost struck under the chin from a Kagiso Rabada short ball, before the third umpire controversially ruled Harmer hadn’t pouched a catch at slip much to the Proteas’ dismay.
It was given out on the soft signal, but Labuschagne was handed a reprieve after Richard Kettleborough overturned the decision.
Play was then halted due to bad light after Elgar declined the option to bowl his spinners.
Following a significant delay, both teams returned with Labuschagne failing to take advantage of his second chance, falling for 79 after being squared up by Nortje who collected his second scalp.
In keeping with the day’s play though, Steve Smith strode out to the middle only to turn on his heels and head back to the pavilion with rain finally bringing an end to the action.