Australia walks off the MCG after securing its first home series win against South Africa in 17 years. (Image: Cricket Australia)

Australia secured its first home series win over South Africa in 17 years with a comprehensive innings and 182-run win in the Second Test at the MCG.

Pat Cummins was vindicated in his call to bowl first at the toss as Australia made light work of the South African batters before David Warner celebrated his 100th Test in style with a double century and Alex Carey broke through with his maiden Test match century.

The spotlight is firmly on the tourists after another meek display with the bat. While the hosts are basking in the glory of a series win, they will face some selection quandaries ahead of the third Test with some injuries to some key personnel.

Here are the top six talking points from the Second Test:

‘Irreplaceable’ Green fully emerges as a superstar on the international stage

It had been a quiet summer for Cameron Green with the youngster not spending as much time in the middle as he would have liked due to the form and mountain of runs the Australian top order has been able to make. But after becoming the most expensive Australian ever brought in the IPL auction during the week, the all-rounder’s luck seemed to change.

Australian captain Pat Cummins threw the ball early to his fellow quick in South Africa’s batting innings. Green showed his prowess with the ball, troubling the Proteas’ batters, troubling them with bounce.

The West Australian almost grabbed the wicket of South African skipper, Dean Elgar, with his first delivery but Nathan Lyon was unable to reel in what would have been an unbelievable catch. Green would pick up the wicket of Theunis de Bruyn in his next over.

Just as it looked as if South Africa was finding its way back into the Test match after another abysmal collapse, the 23-year-old Aussie would be the one to break the 112-run partnership between Kyle Verreynne and Marco Jansen.

We already knew Green’s ability with the ball from his time in the Sheffield Shield and throughout his early international career, but what occurred in the last four overs of the Proteas’ first batting innings would have wet the appetite of the Australian selectors and fans alike.

After capturing the wicket of Verreynne, Green cleaned up the South African tail to claim his maiden Test five-wicket haul.

Australia’s batting innings went how it has gone all summer, with the top order piling on the runs but when David Warner had to retire hurt after compiling a magnificent double hundred in the heat on Day 2, Australia’s number six – Green – came to the crease.

Green batted manfully early against the South African attack before he was struck on the fingers by a short delivery from speedster Anrich Nortje which forced the 198cm Australian to retire hurt.

Green returned to the crease on Day 3 with a fracture in his right index finger thanks to Nortje’s devastating blow but he stayed around as he helped fellow middle-order batter Alex Carey to his maiden Test ton.

After Carey departed, the right-hand batter bravely made his way to another Test half-century (his sixth overall), before Australia declared shortly after.

Captain Pat Cummins said post-game that Green is bordering on “Irreplaceable” which shows the value that the young West Aussie has in this Australian team. The all-rounder is set to have an operation on his injured finger in a bid to be fit for the India tour.

Jordan Janssen

Injuries make for interesting selections amid perfect summer

Australia’s performances throughout the test series, both against the West Indies, and now South Africa, have been near flawless.

It is only really on the injury front that there is cause for concern for the home side.

Mitchell Starc has been tremendous with the ball, however, an attempted outfield catch saw him dislocate the ring finger on his bowling hand. He managed to battle through the test, bowling well to take one wicket from his 18 overs in the second innings.

Given the nature of the injury, however, he will miss the Sydney test. With the series all wrapped up, it allows the Australian selectors to give Lance Morris a debut or Josh Hazelwood another game and Starc a chance to heal his finger for the busy 2023 schedule.

Cameron Green will also miss the Sydney Test, after breaking the index finger on his right hand thanks to a viscous bouncer from Anrich Nortje. Green returned the next day and supported Alex Carey magnificently whilst he made his maiden test century.

Given Green’s importance to the side, the injury must be fixed and given time to heal.

Nathan Lyon also appeared to injure his shoulder late in the South African second innings when diving for a catch. He played out the game and continued to bowl, but given the workload he has had throughout his whole career, perhaps a rest would not do him any harm. This would also give the selectors a chance to play a couple of other spinners and allow them to show their worth with an Indian tour upcoming.

Scott Kertes

South Africa’s batting woes fully exposed on the biggest stage

There wasn’t much expectation on the South African batting unit coming into this series. Only two members of the top six had been to Australia before, with the tour providing an opportunity for other batters to establish themselves as players of promise for the future.

Missing Keegan Petersen and Ryan Rickelton through injury and with Aiden Markram not selected in the touring party, there were opportunities there for the taking for the Proteas batters.

Coming into Boxing Day, the Proteas had not scored more than 200 runs in an innings in the previous seven Test matches, and while they just cleared the marker in the second innings, it was far from convincing.

Perhaps the most glaring indicator of the dearth of batting quality in South African cricket and how lean a period it has been, there has only been one century made by a South African batter in this current World Test Championship cycle. The lone centurion, Sarel Erwee at Christchurch in February this year, but hasn’t looked comfortable and established himself enough on the tour as a long-term opener in all conditions despite the late start to his Test career.

One of their senior batters Temba Bavuma, one of only two with previous Test experience in Australia, always loomed as a key player for the tourists if they were to make any totals of substance. With another couple of starts to his name this tour without going on with it, the 32-year-old has only one Test hundred to his name and currently has the worst conversion rate from 50s to 100 of all players who have scored one century (4.7%).

The entire top seven from this Test has a combined 17 centuries of which 13 of them belong to the captain Dean Elgar, putting the dearth of quality batters in the domestic league and country right at the front of the discussion points about South African Test cricket moving forward.

Jono Baruch

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Australia v South Africa: Boxing Day Test – Day Two: The moments that mattered

Carey’s maiden century proof he belongs at Test level

It might not have been the way he envisaged when he was younger, but Alex Carey had an MCG moment to remember on Wednesday.

The wicketkeeper, who famously initially chose Australian rules football over cricket and played for the GWS Giants before they even entered the AFL, made his maiden Test century a little over a year after first receiving his baggy green.

Carey’s innings was not only a fantastic individual milestone but important for Australia within the context of the game.

Anrich Nortje had dismissed Travis Head and David Warner in back-to-back balls to start day three, setting the groundwork for a potential collapse. But Carey batted beautifully in tandem with Cameron Green to wrench any hope away from South Africa.

The South Australian assumed responsibility for the scoring, navigating his innings with a strong 74.5 strike rate as he piled on his 112-run stand with Cameron Green. This allowed the injured Green to play a more supportive and measured role, as the duo combined to put the result beyond doubt for Australia.

Since making his Test debut during last year’s Ashes series, Carey has quickly become a beloved member of the team and an integral part of its setup.

With the touch he, Head, and Green are in, Australia has the makings of a fearsome middle order as it strives towards World Test Championship Final next year.

For Carey, that run of form has come since he accidentally fell into the team’s pool during its tour of Pakistan earlier this year. Given he has averaged 84.20 at the crease since the funny gaffe, maybe other batters should think about heading to the Karachi Hotel for a dip.

Hamish Spence

Milestone man Warner silences the doubters once again

Coming into his 100th Test match, all the talk surrounding David Warner was not if, but who would be next in line for his spot opening the batting, assuming he would fail.

As he has done so many times in the past, however, Warner dug deep to again prove his doubters wrong. He started his innings with confidence and on the attack, trademarks of big Warner innings in the past.

It could be argued that Marnus Labuschagne was very kind to him in sacrificing his wicket in a horrid series of events leading to his run out, but this was the only real blemish on fine innings.

Warner played through cramps and extreme heat to notch a marvellous double ton, at which point he retired hurt. The 36-year-old came back the next day and was bowled first ball, but this did not diminish his efforts and was given the standing ovation he thoroughly deserved on his way back to the pavilion.

The left-hander has always said that Test cricket will be the first of the formats he will give away, but when is now likely in his own hands. Warner will be keen to again prove the doubters wrong and put in much-improved performances in India and England in 2023, should he choose to continue after the Sydney Test.

Scott Kertes

Australia’s quality and attitude on show with team in a sweet spot

Australia showed why it is the number one ranked Test team in the world against South Africa. From batting to bowling, to fielding, and all the one-percenters in-between. the Aussies were ruthless as they ground yet another touring team into the ground in their backyard.

With the bat, David Warner was back to his best, as he clocked up his 25th Test match century and made the most of it converting it into a double ton.

Despite being hit on the hand and retiring hurt due to cramp and heatstroke, Warner came back out to bat later in the innings, where he was dismissed first ball.

His attitude to be positive with the bat, as well as coming back out to bat to help his team, showcased the class he possesses. At 36 years old and with doubts over his Test future heading into the match, Warner utilised his experience, grit, and determination to score a classy double-century.

Steve Smith continued on his love affair with the MCG and form this summer with a well-made 85, while Travis Head and Cameron Green both posted half-centuries. The latter reaching the milestone now means all of Australians’ top seven batters have passed 50 at least once this summer.

With the ball, the Australians were just as ruthless.

Green picked up his first Test five-wicket haul, while each bowler utilised their strengths to suffocate the South African batting line up.

Mitchell Starc utilised his pace and height as he bounced the South African batters, while the left-arm quick was also deadly with his yorker deliveries.

Pat Cummins toiled away and finished as the most economical bowler, finishing with match figures of 1-50 off 30 overs, at a low economy rate of 1.66.

Nathan Lyon was rewarded for his efforts with four wickets, including the crucial wicket of Temba Bavuma for 65 in the second innings.

Scott Boland was at his brilliant best, employing his consistent line and length, angling to hit the top of the off stump. He picked up three wickets in the match.

The one-percenters in the field were evident for Australia, too, as it affected three runouts in the match.

Australia now has the chance to complete its first series whitewash over South Africa since 2001/02. If the Aussies win in Sydney, they are guaranteed to play in the World Test Championship Final in June 2023.

Dylan Costa

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