Warne the icing on Ponting's cake

The leg-spinner's six for 86 in 35.5 overs of control and craft ended South Africa's challenge amidst fading light in Kingsmead, Durban.

Ricky Ponting made two hundreds in the Test, but Shane Warne walked away with the Man of the Match award. It was a brave decision by the adjudicators and arguably the right one. While batsmen set up victories, it is the bowlers who eventually win you Test matches. Warne's six for 86 in 35.5 overs of control and craft ended South Africa's challenge amidst fading light in Kingsmead, Durban.

A Warne googly had Makhaya Ntini padding up and the No. 11 found himself at the wrong end of a marginal leg-before decision. Only 6.1 overs remained in a tense Test match that tested the nerves of both teams as the whooping Aussies wrapped up the series 2-0 with a 112-run win.

This was also a Test with incidents. The South Africans were clearly unhappy about the manner in which umpires Steve Bucknor and Billy Doctrove implemented the law pertaining to the quality of light.

Andre Nel's verbal assault on Adam Gilchrist even as the Australian stand-in captain dismissed him for 22 runs in an over during the second innings attracted attention of the wrong kind. Australia's on-field behaviour came under the scanner too. Former England captain Tony Greig said he was shocked at some of the words the Australians said. "The whole thing is getting out of hand. The time has come for the authorities in the game to rethink the question of what players are allowed to say on the field."

And Australia's prolific opener Matthew Hayden was not pleased about some of the repair work done on the pitch ahead of the fourth day's play but the ground authorities were firm in their denial.

The South Africans began the final day with all 10 wickets intact. The opening pair of skipper Graeme Smith and Abraham de Villiers was proving to be a block, having added 91 for the first wicket. A beautifully flighted delivery from Warne, drifting away from the right-hander and catching De Villiers off balance as he pushed forward, made the initial breach as Adam Gilchrist removed the bails in a flash.

Warne's ability to bowl special deliveries during crunch times makes him the bowler that he is. He does subject the batsmen to a severe test of temperament and skill. The leg-spinning legend revealed his bag of tricks even as the hosts gradually wilted under pressure. "I wasn't that happy with the way I bowled in the first Test for a number of reasons, one of which was that I didn't have much rhythm," Warne admitted. Indeed, he had only played a marginal role in the seven-wicket Australian victory in Cape Town.

But the Victorian was humming on a last day Kingsmead surface that offered him some bounce and turn. There might have been doubt about two of his wickets — Graeme Smith was picked up at leg-slip (the ball appeared to deviate off his forearm) and Jacques Kallis was ruled out leg-before while attempting to sweep — but not the quality of his bowling.

Warne's constantly working on his game and has developed a more effective wrong 'un. While his flipper has lost some of its venom following his shoulder surgery, a better wrong 'un has enhanced Warne's repertoire.

If Warne was outstanding, the efforts of Brett Lee in the first innings were not far behind either. He was furiously quick without losing control over line and length. Lee's deadly strikes enabled Australia gain a 102-run lead. He blew away the lower half of the line-up and in the game unleashed a delivery close to 160 kmph.

In the absence of Glenn McGrath, Lee had to shoulder additional burden and he coped with the challenge magnificently.

Lee also crashed through to the 200 Test wicket mark emulating his childhood hero Jeff Thomson. He was clearly the leader of the pack, softening the opposition and making inroads with his pace, swing and bounce.

Skipper Ponting, whose 103 and 116 were massive contributions, called it a team effort and dwelt on how the side had come together after the Ashes setback. "We've looked at ourselves and looked at them (England). We identified areas where we could improve. More importantly, we've got players putting their hands up which was lacking a bit in the Ashes."

Ponting underplayed his own performance and his feat of going past Don Bradman's 29 Test centuries, but team-mate Matthew Hayden, who shared a 201-run second-wicket partnership with Ponting in the second innings, was not lacking in words of praise for his skipper.

"He is, by head and shoulders, No. 1 in the world, there's no question about that. On all surfaces, in all conditions, he's been the dominant player of the last two years," he said. Ponting's first innings knock, after he won the toss, was a cautious one by his standard. He desired to build a challenging first innings score on a surface where there was assistance for the bowlers. When Australia needed to score at a fast clip on day four, his 116 was made in 187 balls. The confidently striking Matthew Hayden's 102 (217b) and Gilchrist's blitzkrieg meant Australia set South Africa a target of 410.

Australia found the right men for the right occasion. Lanky paceman Stuart Clark may have been introduced late into the Australian attack in the first innings — poor light forced Ponting's hands — but he bowled with precision, Jacques Kallis being among his two victims.

In the second, he consumed Herschelle Gibbs and Ashwell Prince with searing short-pitched bowling. He has settled down well in the Aussie attack. Despite the historic ODI chase at the Wanderers, the South Africans have some way to travel before they catch up with the Aussies in Tests. The Australians hold a mental sway over South Africa in the longer form of the game; after a competitive first half of the contest, the Australians almost always pull ahead.

The South Africans fought back in the Australian first innings after Ponting and Damien Martyn (57) had laid the foundation.

The visitors suffered a mini-collapse but the efficient Michael Hussey's 75 and a bustling 36 from Warne enabled Australia to cross the crucial 350-mark.

Jacques Kallis' 114 was the high-point of the South African batting, but the host lost its way when Lee whipped up an inspired spell. A total of 267 meant the side would be under pressure to save the Test.

The South African batsmen, surrounded by close-in catchers, and hounded by Warne's probing spin and guile, succumbed on day five. Gilchrist led the side well on the final day, with Ponting indisposed.

There was some spirited resistance in the latter half by Mark Boucher who remained unbeaten on 51 (156 balls) and Nicky Boje 48 (64b), who batted together for 82 minutes. Boucher and Nel ate up 68 minutes. With overs running out and the light fading, Boucher and Ntini baulked the Aussies for 4.1 overs before Ntini, fatally, padded up to Warne. The champion leg-spinner had the final say, and rightly so.

THE SCORES

Second Test, Australia vs South Africa, Kingsmead, Durban, March 24-28, 2006. Australia won by 112 runs.

Australia — 1st innings: J. Langer c Boucher b Kallis 35; M. Hayden c de Villiers b Ntini 0; R. Ponting c Gibbs b Boje 103; D. Martyn c Kallis b Ntini 57; M. Hussey lbw b Kallis 75; B. Lee c Boucher b Ntini 0; A. Symonds lbw b Nel 13; A. Gilchrist c Boucher b Nel 2; S. Warne c de Villiers b Pollock 36; M. Kasprowicz c de Villiers b Nel 7; S. Clark (not out) 13; Extras (b-9, lb-10, w-2, nb-7) 28. Total: 369.

Fall of wkts: 1-0, 2-97, 3-198, 4-218, 5-219, 6-253, 7-259, 8-315, 9-327.

South Africa bowling: Pollock 32-11-73-1; Ntini 24-4-81-3; Nel 31-8-83-3; Kallis 21.1-8-52-2; Boje 19-1-61-1.

South Africa — 1st innings: G. Smith c Langer b Lee 0; A. B. de Villiers c Hayden b Clark 50; H. Gibbs b Kasprowicz 9; J. Kallis c & b Clark 114; A. Prince c Symonds b Warne 33; J. Rudolph c Hussey b Warne 13; M. Boucher b Lee 19; S. Pollock c Gilchrist b Lee 1; N. Boje (not out) 6; A. Nel c Hayden b Lee 5; M. Ntini c Ponting b Lee 0; Extras (lb-3, nb-14) 17. Total: 267.

Fall of wkts: 1-0, 2-10, 3-144, 4-200, 5-226, 6-255, 7-256, 8-257, 9-267.

Australia bowling: Lee 19.4-5-69-5; Kasprowicz 14-0-60-1; Warne 25-2-80-2; Symonds 11-3-16-0; Hussey 1-0-2-0; Clark 18-4-37-2.

Australia — 2nd innings: J. Langer c Pollock b Boje 37; M. Hayden c Boucher b Ntini 102; R. Ponting c Boje b Pollock 116; D. Martyn (not out) 15; A. Gilchrist c Nel b Boje 24; Extras (lb-5, w-1, nb-7) 13. Total (for four wkts., decl.) 307.

Fall of wkts: 1-49, 2-250, 3-278, 4-307.

South Africa bowling: Pollock 19-4-55-1; Ntini 15-2-62-1; Boje 26.4-4-87-2; Nel 14-3-58-0; Kallis 8-0-40-0.

South Africa — 2nd innings: A. B. de Villiers st. Gilchrist b Warne 46; G. Smith c Langer b Warne 40; H. Gibbs c Warne b Clark 17; J. Kallis lbw b Warne 7; A. Prince c Hussey b Clark 7; J. Rudolph c Langer b Warne 36; M. Boucher (not out) 51; S. Pollock b Lee 4; N. Boje c sub b Kasprowicz 48; A. Nel c Hayden b Warne 14; M. Ntini lbw b Warne 0; Extras (b-5, lb-8, nb-14) 27. Total: 297.

Fall of wickets: 1-91, 2-98, 3-122, 4-122, 5-146, 6-170, 7-181, 8-253, 9-292.

Australia bowling: Lee 22-6-65-1; Clark 21-6-46-2; Symonds 8-0-32-0; Warne 35.5-9-86-6; Kasprowicz 12-2-51-1; Hussey 1-0-4-0.

A Special Correspondent