There were times when South Africa didn’t quite look like the number one-ranked Test side in the world against Australia. But time and time again they would find a way to fight their way back as contenders. Gritty, determined and nail-biting are some of the words used to describe the series which has just passed between the two teams – a series that saw the Proteas seal their number one ranking for a little while longer.
Of course, there was plenty to write about, too; and if you’re Malcolm Conn, who infamously pre-empted an Australian victory in the second Test, you probably would have gone extra hard at the team. With South Africa seemingly down and out in Adelaide, Conn was certain the Aussies would return to the top and was left red-faced after the opening line in his piece for the Daily Telegraph read: “Australia will return to the top of the world today once it completes a crushing victory over damaged and demoralised Test champions South Africa in Adelaide.”
Thanks to some incredible fight shown by Faf du Plessis and the rest of the South African side, the Test ended in a draw and Australia remained stuck in number three – with Conn’s words fizzling out in their wake.
The final Test was a different kettle of fish, with South Africa completely dominating in all aspects after a bit of a rotten start. The Aussie press let loose as the home team went tumbling into oblivion and lost by 309 runs.
Peter Lalor, writing for The Australian, didn’t have anything good to say about the Aussies’ performance.
“Champions contemptuously put the Australians in their place,” Lalor wrote.
It gets worse from there with, Lalor hammering home the point that the gap between the two teams – ranked one and three respectively – is gaping. And he is quite right, too. While Australia had South Africa on the backfoot on more than one occasion, they never managed to take advantage of having the Saffas under the cosh.
“Perth was a monumental failure at a critical moment and a timely reminder that Michael Clarke’s side is number three – better on a good day and worse on a bad one like this. Never was the gap between one and three writ more large than in this game,” Lalor continued.
Firdose Moonda, writing for Cricinfo, had plenty of praise for AB de Villers. The wicket-keeper batsman has looked a bit out of form since taking over the gloves during the England series, but since his 169 in the final Test, many have had their faith reingited. Moonda waxed lyrical about De Villiers and his seeming resurgence.
“You made up for it [failing in the previous Tests] in emphatic style. All your runs in the series so far add up to less than the 169 you put on today. While Amla and Jacques Kallis had already amassed a lead that looked comfortable, it was up to you to take the cushion and turn it into a couch. You finished with a designer lazyboy,” she wrote.
“At first you gardened a lot, as though you were marking territory. You defended, you walked down the pitch and tapped. You left one alone. And then out came the pull shot against Mitchell Starc, a gesture of some intent. You faced only six more balls before you brought out the reverse sweep. There was the De Villiers we used to know.”
A beautiful innings it might have been, but doth one good knock a keeper batsman make? That will remain to be seen, and the selectors will have to decide whether they want to keep the pressure and the extra workload on one of their brightest stars.
Robert Craddock looked for the positives in the hiding, asking whether the loss could be the spanking Australia had to have in his piece for the Herald Sun.
With an Ashes series against England coming up next year, Craddock reckons this might have been the kick up the backside the Aussies needed to sort out their side ahead of the cross-continental showdown.
“Australian fans should not shed tears at the prospect of a likely loss to South Africa in Perth in terms of it being a major impediment to Australia’s Ashes success next year. It may yet do more good than harm. Put simply, we are not as good as we thought we were. Reality has bitten. The devastation of the past two days will muddle Australia’s Ashes plans but that is all part of the process of finding out who can play,” Craddock wrote.
And he might be right. The down side is that Australia has very little time to see just how well any sort of new blood can adjust ahead of the Ashes. They have a Test series at home with Sri Lanka and a series away to India, to mix and match whatever combination they think can topple England and then, of course, there’s the small matter of finding somebody to replace Ricky Ponting.
Tim Ellis, writing for Cricket365.com, praised South Africa’s mental leap of faith and their ability to roll with the punches.
“South Africa did not let Australia’s apparent dominance get into their heads. Australia did not like it. Clarke looked like he knew the best chance had gone. Was the series winner a bingo caller who pulled out the lucky numbers when it mattered – or was this really a time to separate these almost inseparable sides?
“It felt a bit like the latter,” wrote Ellis.
Of course, Australia was battered and bruised, and the team was short of some of their most successful bowlers in the final Test, but even those backups bowled so badly, Shane Warne Tweeted that it was impossible to set a field for it. DM
Photo: South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith (R) congratulates team mate Dean Elgar (C) for catching out Australia’s Ed Cowan 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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