South Africa is becoming a little like Lazarus. Whenever they seem down and out in a Test series or in a particular Test match, a few individuals seem to find a way to put them back on track. When they’ve performed poorly as a team, bouncing back and coming together seems just around the corner. It happened again against Australia in Perth for the third and final Test.
After an average first Test and the Great Escape in the second, the Proteas dominated the match in Perth to beat Australia by 309 runs, clinching a 1-0 series win to finish the year unbeaten in the Test arena, despite having had their issues with injury – and despite sometimes looking like they had no clue what was going on.
It’s also the Proteas’ second win Down Under with Graeme Smith at the helm, and it caps a rather impressive year for a Test side that now hasn’t lost a series away from home since 2006. Smith, who has copped his fair share of flak during his time, particularly when he opted to not return home after the Proteas crashed out of the World Cup in India last year, dedicated the win to the fans back in South Africa.
“The guys showed tremendous character in the last two weeks. For us to achieve two series wins is a huge achievement. I just want to say to our fans back home, I know you’ve been waking up early in the morning to watch us. This one’s for you,” the skipper said.
Smith hailed day two at the WACA as something special, a day filled with the vigour of Dale Steyn, the subtlety of Vernon Philander and the second coming of Robin Peterson – as the bowling attack combined to skittle Australia out for 163, with only Matthew Wade and his 68 off 102 managing any sort of significant contribution.
“Day two for me has got to go down as one of the highlights of South African cricket. Then today to take 10 wickets and put our marker firmly down in Australia was special,” said Smith.
Smith, despite the criticism thrown at him, has been a tremendously successful captain, and 2012 will arguably go down as one of the memorable ones in South African cricket history. For the skipper, it was one of the best years of his life.
“It’s been outstanding what we’ve been able to achieve. I think for us to win back-to-back series in England and Australia… is the proudest achievement of my career,” said Smith.
Not only is Smith the first and only South African captain to lead the side to victory in Australia since readmission, he’s also the first and only South African captain to do so twice and the skipper hailed his side’s character for the grit and determination showed throughout the tour.
“Looking back to the 1990s, we knew it’s really hard to win in Australia, and this was no different. The guys showed a tremendous amount of character and ability in this series. Winning a series here takes a lot of effort, so to win two here means the world to us,” Smith said.
The Test was also Ricky Ponting’s last as an international cricketer, and while he didn’t exactly go out all guns blazing, the Proteas gave him a special send-off, forming a guard of honour to welcome him onto the pitch as he walked out to bat for the last time. It was an emotional moment at the same ground where his career started 17 years ago. It was a small gesture, but it goes a long way in modern sport, and while the rivalry between the two sides has always been fierce, the respect for each other is illustrious. In that respect, a small gesture by the South Africans capped off what has been yet another fascinating series between two teams who never say die.
Ponting might not have gone out like he would have wanted, having managed to score just four and eight in his final Test, but he has also timed his retirement right, instead of being dropped from the side and fizzling out. Ponting has called time on his career at precisely the right time.
“I probably had in mind a bit more of a fairytale ending than I’ve had here. Graeme’s gesture – that sort of thing will live with me forever,” the former Australian skipper said.
South Africa has taken its number one-ranked Test status and glossed it up with some Brasso. And while the rankings sometimes seem somewhat peculiar, there is little doubt that anybody can challenge them for their title. They’re six points clear on the log, the highest by any team in over four years, and should remain there until the New Year – regardless of results elsewhere in the cricketing world. DM
Photo: South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith (C) celebrates the wicket of Australia’s Matthew Wade with team mates at the WACA during the fourth day’s play of the third test cricket match in Perth December 3, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
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