Hosts talk themselves into box seat

THE outcome was a placid draw, but the way we arrived there was anything but peaceful. Australia set the tone for the remainder of the series against top-ranked South Africa with a fiery verbal interlude led by James Pattinson and Peter Siddle, who unloaded on Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla as tensions mounted on the final day of the first Test. It is all square heading to Adelaide next week but, via actions and words, the momentum is with Michael Clarke and co.

Frustrated at the intransigence of the Proteas' batsmen and a succession of unsuccessful appeals, and requiring an almighty collapse to effect a famous victory, Australia's keyed-up quicks unleashed on Tuesday – and two of South Africa's most accomplished run-scorers were in the firing line.

Pattinson, Australia's standout bowler at the Gabba, even risked a fine by giving Smith, the Proteas captain, an old-fashioned send-off after he had the broad left-hander caught in the gully by Rob Quiney for 23.

It was the culmination of an ongoing stand-off between the two that threatened to boil over – and all as a result of the flying trajectory of a bird. The breaking point occurred shortly after lunch on day five when Pattinson, in the midst of a superb spell in which gave South Africa's top order repeated trouble, was forced to pull up while at full tilt, with Smith veering away from the crease. Spidercam, Channel Nine's new Test toy, was an initial suspect but in his line of sight, it turned out, was a feathered spectator, not a remote-controlled one.

Pattinson, who clearly did not see the intruder himself, was not amused, delivering South Africa's captain, built like a bouncer, a mouthful. He returned to his mark, ripped in a bouncer, then another spray. There were glares and grunts to follow before the ultimate outcome for the young Victorian, coaxing Smith to edge into the safe palms of Quiney.

"There was a lot of noise," Smith said last night. "I didn't really make out what was being said." Pattinson was spoken to by umpire Asad Rauf, as was Siddle, who also allowed passions to overflow in a one-way exchange with Amla. The 29-year-old appeared unperturbed as Siddle hurled heated words at the South African run machine, and to Rauf, after having a raucous caught-behind turned down, while Australian fieldsman David Warner also chimed in. Like Pattinson, though, Siddle would get his man, prompting Amla to steer the ball not long after to Mike Hussey on 38.

Clarke, the Australian captain, praised his bowlers' approach, insisting they did not overstep the mark. That was a crime that was committed in a literal sense, in the form of no-balls, more than 30 times in the match.

"Patto knows the rules. I think the aggression, the intent is the way we play our best cricket, and I certainly don't want to stop that," said Clarke, who had earlier declared while unbeaten on 259 and with Australia 5-565. "But we understand there's a line and you can go to the line but you can't overstep it.

"I think the boys deserve a lot of credit for their attitude in the second innings. Our intent was the way it needs to be when you're playing against such a good team. Our attitude was spot-on today with the ball. We were quite aggressive with our approach, and we seemed to get better throughout the Test match. I think it was all friendly banter. I know Smithy was having a good laugh, I know Patto was doing the same. You've got two very competitive teams that want to have success and both teams are going to push hard, but both teams understand where the line is, and I'm pretty sure nobody overstepped that mark today or throughout the Test match.

''The game was played in really good spirit. We know we're up against a tough opposition and I think both teams played in the right way.''

Pattinson, in particular, was outstanding on an afternoon that was only ever likely to eventuate in a draw, completing an eye-catching spell of 1-18 from five overs after lunch that showed all the attributes behind his ambition to be the country's long-term spearhead.

Pattinson and Siddle will again form the core of the Australian attack in the second Test in Adelaide, starting on Friday week, but Ben Hilfenhaus could make way as the third seamer for left-armer Mitchell Starc.

This story Hosts talk themselves into box seat first appeared on Canberra Times.