In an action-packed two-day Test, Australia claimed a dominant win over South Africa on a green bowler-friendly pitch in Brisbane.
While batters on both sides found the Gabba wicket difficult to navigate, the host’s unrelenting pace attack and a classy knock from Travis Head proved to be the difference.
Despite the strong six-wicket win, Australia has been left with questions regarding the form of David Warner and its trio of fast bowlers come Boxing Day.
Meanwhile, the Proteas are wrestling with what went wrong and what they need to change to get back into the series.
Here are the top six talking points from the first Test.
Head’s dominant summer continues
It would be hard to find many players seeing the ball better than Travis Head at the moment.
The South Australian has been in rare form this summer, with his best knock possibly coming at the Gabba over the weekend.
While Head posted higher scores of 99 and 175 against the West Indies, his incredible 92-run stand off just 96 balls against South Africa was arguably of higher quality given the bowler-friendly conditions.
The 28-year-old not only managed to post a score where others had failed but did it with a fluidity that defied the green pitch and the Proteas’ potent bowling attack.
It’s a feature of Head’s game that has made him such a joy to watch. He has a blistering strike rate and an ability to navigate innings with a speed and freedom that is rarely seen at Test level.
Back in 2019, he made a career-defining century at the MCG against New Zealand to solidify his spot in the team.
He now heads to the same ground three years later filled with a world of confidence following two back-to-back player-of-the-match performances.
Boland shines, but will he make it back to the ‘G
Australian cricket’s resident cult hero managed to do it again, with Scott Boland’s performance at the Gabba serving as the perfect capstone to an incredible first year in Test cricket.
The right-arm quick proved he rarely strikes just once after taking two wickets in the same over in both innings.
His efforts contributed to a dominant performance from Australia’s pace attack, which included a five-for from skipper Pat Cummins on return from injury and Mitchell Starc’s 300th Test wicket.
But Boland’s ongoing Cinderella story could fall short of returning to the venue where it all started 12 months ago.
The proud Victorian announced himself to the cricketing world last year with a magical 6-7 spell that scattered England at the MCG.
His legend has continued to grow since then, but the selectors showed last month that if Josh Hazelwood, Starc, and Cummins are all fit, they are still the preferred trio.
Boland has made the most of his opportunity over the last two matches following Hazelwood’s side strain injury and his experience at the ‘G would be an asset as Australia looks to seal the series. But given Hazlewood’s standing in the team and years of proven performance, it would be hard to keep him out the side if he’s 100 per cent.
While the decision is a welcome headache for the selectors, it will be hotly debated all the way up to Boxing Day.
Proteas show late fight ahead of the second Test
South Africa will be reeling after Australia’s Gabba demolition job, but the visitors ensured they claimed a few scalps of their own ahead of Boxing Day.
The result was a fait accompli after the Proteas only left a target of 34 runs for the hosts, who chased down the minute total was far from a cakewalk.
After looking sluggish by his own high standards earlier on Sunday, Kagiso Rabada came to life in Australia’s second innings with a blistering 4-13 spell that kept any batter from reaching double figures.
It’s easy for the shaky batting to be washed away in the jubilation of victory, but a few of the Australians will be left with doubts ahead of Melbourne. Alarm bells would have been ringing all throughout the dressing room if the required total had been just 50 runs higher.
South Africa’s fast bowling attack is as potent as any in the world and it was on full display in Brisbane.
Rabada claimed a match-high eight wickets, while Marco Jansen breathed life into the match by dispatching Cameron Green and Travis Head in the same over.
If their batters can post a more competitive total in Melbourne, the Proteas will have no concerns about their ability to get back into the series.
Warner’s struggles loom ahead of major milestone
Boxing Day will be a momentous occasion for David Warner, with the champion opener set to play his 100th Test match on one of cricket’s grandest stages.
The build-up will be filled with celebrations and tributes to the former vice captain’s achievements at all levels of the game, but he is heading to Melbourne under massive pressure.
While Warner was hardly the only batter to miss out on a tough Gabba pitch, his lean scores of a golden duck and three runs did little to quell the heat he is under.
In his six Test innings this summer, Warner has scored 105 runs, with the left-hander making starts against the West Indies but failing to go on with them.
At the Gabba, he continued to struggle against Rabada, who dismissed him in both innings after also having his number when the two countries last met in 2018.
The 36-year-old’s critics will only grow stronger if he fails to perform again in Melbourne, possibly leading to his 100th milestone being transformed into a discussion about his cricket mortality.
The roar for the first ball on Boxing Day is one of the most anticipated moments each year, but it could be the most anticipated in recent memory if Warner is the one facing it come December 26.
Captain Elgar needs to lead from the front
Dean Elgar arguably carries the heaviest burden of any player in this series.
Given South Africa’s inexperienced batting line-up, the responsibility rests with him as the team’s captain and opening batter to set the tone.
Unfortunately for Elgar he only posted scores of three and two respectively in Brisbane and was the first player to fall for South Africa in both innings.
While the conditions were difficult for every batter, his early dismissals laid the groundwork for the struggles the Proteas faced all throughout the match.
If the visitors want to get back into the series, a lot of the responsibility lies on Elgar’s shoulders.
It’s the first time the proud skipper has led his team on Australian soil, a country where he has only averaged 18 runs throughout his Test career.
But while South Africa’s batting figures made for tough reading, there are still positives the team can take out as it prepares for Melbourne.
Temba Bavuma was the only player from either side who managed to make a stand in both innings, making scores of 38 and 29 respectively.
Wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne played a lone hand in with a hard-fought 64 on Saturday, while the unproven Khaya Zondo arguably did enough to keep his spot in the side following an unbeaten 36 (the best score in his short three-match Test career).
Weekend stopover for two-day Test
Anyone who had weekday tickets for the match was out of luck after the Gabba produced the first-two two Test in Australia in more than 90 years.
Concerns were raised over the green pitch heading into the match and they proved to be well-founded after both sides struggled with bat in hand.
The Gabba has always been a tough wicket to bat on, particularly for visiting sides, but the curators arguably went too far in trying to inject life into the pitch on this occasion.
It’s hard to deny the weekend’s action was exciting and it ensured viewers were glued to the game at every second.
There’s a valid argument that two days of exciting cricket is better than having a Test played on a dead and flat wicket that limps across five days.
Conversely, it’s probably not in the best interests of ticketholders and the game to have a match that does not make it past the weekend.
Whatever grade the International Cricket Council gives the Gabba wicket will make for interesting reading.
The next match is the historic Boxing Day Test at the MCG next Monday. Australia has a chance to seal the series with another win, while South Africa will be looking to get back into the series.