Despite half-centuries to Australia A batsmen Tom Cooper and Matthew Wade on the final day, South Africa A have completed a comprehensive eight-wicket victory at Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville.
The news is likely to get worse for the home side with captain Moises Henriques in doubt for the second four-day match starting Thursday due to injury.
Australia A coach Michael Di Venuto told media after play that the allrounder was struggling with a neck issue, however, it was later confirmed that the reason Henriques didn’t bat on the final day was because of groin soreness, for which he’ll undergo further assessment.
“If the game was on the line and there to be saved, he certainly would have gone out to bat,” Di Venuto told media after the match.
“When we lost the ninth wicket there was too long left for him to really make an impact.”
In the lead-up to the clash in Townsville, Henriques admitted minor injury troubles had hampered his output earlier in the series with the 27-year-old playing just one four-day match and three limited-overs matches during the ‘A’ tour before arriving in far north Queensland.
The skipper underwent a fitness test of sorts during the tea break, showing noticeable signs of discomfort during the brief batting session in the nets before making his way to the team bench for the final session as he removed his protective equipment.
Given Henriques only bowled 10 overs in the match and was unable to bat, it appears unlikely the allrounder will risk doing further damage with just a three-day break between matches.
While the batsmen failed to hold off the rampaging South African attack on the final day, both sides conceded the damage was done in Australia A’s first innings.
“It’s pretty disappointing from my perspective,” Di Venuto said.
“To win the toss on an excellent pitch with a fast outfield, 239 was about 250 short of the score we should have got on that wicket.
“The South Africa A batsmen showed us how to play on that wicket, with a couple of guys getting big hundreds and that’s what we expect from our boys.”
Opposing captain Justin Ontong was frank in his assessment of the Aussies’ poor display on the opening day.
“I wouldn’t say that we bowled very good (on day one), I think there were a couple of soft dismissals on their behalf,” Ontong told media.
“We know they’re going to come back hard in the next game, so we need to make sure we keep improving on our performances.”
Beginning the final day with six wickets in hand, West End Redbacks team-mates Callum Ferguson and Cooper got off to a positive start during the morning session.
In what was a worrying sign for the batsmen to come, Ferguson (37) had his stumps rattled by a skidding delivery from South Africa A quick Marchant de Lange.
Cooper also fell victim to one that failed to bounce up off a short length, as he went to pull one off Kagiso Rabada only to have the ball cannon into his stumps and end a terrific knock on 82.
After their crucial partnership in the first innings, Peter Nevill joined Wade out in the middle as they looked to survive a little more than two sessions.
Wade looked in particularly impressive touch as he set about making the most of his late call-up to the ‘A’ squad, showcasing a series of brilliant shots off the back foot on his way to 60 off 136 balls.
“He’s played beautifully in both innings,” said Di Venuto, the Australia batting coach.
“To come straight out of the winter in Melbourne, he’s come in and struck the ball beautifully.
“He’s always been a very good batsman, his first-class record shows that.”
The bowlers struggled to break through the defence of the Victoria skipper, but a mix-up with batting partner Michael Neser meant they didn’t have to.
While Neser and Cameron Boyce ensured the South Africans would have to bat again, chasing down 18 was a mere formality.
The Aussies picked up a couple of late wickets to boost morale late in the day, but it couldn’t stop a hungry South Africa line-up desperate to bounce back from a disappointing one-day campaign in Darwin.
“I thought we started hitting our straps in the last two one-day games, but that was too late,” Ontong continued.
“We were very disappointing in the one-day series, but what a way to start in this Test series.
“We’ve got one more game so we want to finish off well.”
The hosts will be buoyed by the fact that South Africa A need to replace two of their stars for the next clash as a result of national call-ups to de Lange and double-centurion Rilee Rossouw.
“There’s an opportunity for the new guys to step in and make a name for themselves,” said Ontong, who admitted he needed to lift personally.
“This is the breeding ground for the Proteas and we are happy to lose guys of that calibre when they put in big performances like that.”
Cricket South Africa announced on Thursday that allrounder David Wiese and fast bowler Corne Dry have been added to the squad for the second four-day clash.