Durban: Mitchell Starc`s ability to blow away South Africa`s tail was the crucial difference between the teams, South African captain Faf du Plessis said after Australia wrapped up a 118-run win on the fifth day of the first Test on Monday.
It took Australia 18 minutes and 22 balls to claim the last South African wicket when Quinton de Kock swung across the line and was leg before wicket to Josh Hazlewood for 83. South Africa were bowled out for 298, adding five runs to their overnight total of 293 for nine as Australia took a 1-0 lead in the four-match series.
The result is however likely to be overshadowed by an unseemly row between Australia`s tempestuous David Warner and South Africa`s Quinton de Kock as the players returned to the clubhouse for tea. From the fall of the sixth wicket in the four innings, Australia added a total of 166 runs while South Africa scored only 27 runs from the same stage.
"There was a real difference in skill with the reverse swing," said Du Plessis, who said Starc and South Africa`s Kagiso Rabada were the two stand-outs. "One bowler in each team has the potential to do that to the tail. We`ve got to find ways to eliminate their tail a lot quicker. As I said before the series, it`s going to be a real crucial part, the amount of runs scored between eight and eleven."
Man of the match Starc had match figures of nine for 109, with six of his victims being lower order batsmen.Du Plessis acknowledged that it was difficult for his tailenders. "Starc reverse swings the ball at pace and the only weapon we have right now is Kagiso. The tail are going to have to scrap it and get as many runs as possible but we know as the top seven or eight batters that the responsibility lies with us."
Australian captain Steve Smith also identified runs from the lower order as crucial. "Our tail played really well, it was probably the difference in the end," he said. "It`s really satisfying to win the first Test match of the series, especially against quality opposition like South Africa," said Smith.
The Australian captain said it was disappointing that none of the batsmen had gone to make a hundred, although he praised Mitchell Marsh, whose 96 in the first innings, batting with the tail, enabled Australia to create the foundation for a 189-run first innings lead. "Reverse swing played a huge part throughout the game," said Smith. "The ball started reversing inside 20 overs in the first innings, which you don`t see too often, but it was a very abrasive surface."
Looking ahead to the second Test, which starts in Port Elizabeth on Friday, Smith said: "For us it is about ensuring we keep doing those basic things really well and keep winning the big moments." Du Plessis said the loss was disappointing but he was proud of the character shown by the team in fighting back from what seemed a hopeless position when they were 49 for four in the second innings, needing 417 to win.
"Most teams, when you get into a position of strength like that the team rocks up on day four and you bully them the whole day," said Du Plessis, who had special praise for century-maker Aiden Markram.
"That was a brilliant knock," said Du Plessis. "That says a lot about his character. He went through a tough stage through the one-dayers against India. You can always judge a guy by the way he stands up."
Du Plessis said Markram`s involvement in the run-out of AB de Villiers had been a test of Markram`s character.
"I was out there with him and the Australian team were trying to put pressure on him to make sure that was something that should weigh on his shoulders. To get through says a lot about a young guy."