Australia beat South Africa by 245 runs in the dying minutes at Newlands on Wednesday. A broken Ryan Harris helped the visitors get over the line, but South Africa put up one heck of a fight in a Test match which deserves a scorecard with a remarks column. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
The H.A.N.G.M.A.N. word game can be anything from a quick death to an agonisingly slow battle, depending on who you are up against or how big the word you’re guessing is. Often it’s a game of skill, guessing vowels before progressing to consonants, hoping that the letters fall your way. With every wrong guess, another limb gets drawn onto the gallows.
Australia and South Africa played their own version of the game session after session on Wednesday at Newlands, as the visitors completed an enthralling 245 run win which went down to the last five overs of the Test. Like any good game of H.A.N.G.M.A.N., it was a thrilling guessing game for the fans to watch and a painful drawing of the gallows for the losers – as the victors spelled out their win with great deliberation, step by step.
It sealed a 2-1 series victory for Australia, meaning South Africa are yet to beat the old enemy on home turf since readmission, but the scoreboard tells only half the story. A captain retiring after a decade in the job, two bowlers finding one final wind to try to win a game for their country, and a thrilling end to a tough series.
Ryan Harris could not walk on the fifth morning after delaying surgery before the Ashes he pushed through to claim two wickets in two balls to seal a memorable and deserved win for Australia, but the South Africans didn’t go down without a fight.
South Africa were never going to chase down the target, but with their penchant for fighting back, a draw was a possibility, and day five resumed with just a tinge of belief that it might be possible.
With eyes as wide as saucers and his feet still planted firmly in his concrete boots, Kyle Abbott stood on the pitch at Newlands on Wednesday morning for nearly two hours. Sent out as the dubious nightwatchman the evening before, he supported AB de Villiers for as long as he could. With nine men around the bat in catching positions, Abbott nudged, defended and prodded his way around, while Australia tried to guess what the word might spell. Catchers moved back and forth, in and around and the hang man was just starting to take a shape. A head and neck had been ticked on with Australia failing to guess a letter right.
A reversing delivery from James Pattinson ended his vigil, as Abbott’s decided to leave instead of defend. After 177 balls, the first letter was drawn: W.
Faf du Plessis joined De Villiers in the middle and the ghost of Adelaide started to howl. So did the Australians around Du Plessis. Du Plessis had referred to Australia as a “pack of dogs” on day three following an incident with picking up the ball and the visitors getting a bit defensive. The howls and barks went on and so did the guessing game. A few more limbs were drawn on, a body and an arm, and Australia were starting to think perhaps they should have picked a word from a different category.
De Villiers, having spent for nearly five and a half hours at the crease, and who was on course for the second-slowest fifty in Test history, was outfoxed by Ryan Harris. Australia’s underrated hero forced an edge from outside off.
The second letter was scribbled onto the gallows: I.
JP Duminy walked out in the middle to join the game of cat and mouse and eke out just a little bit more belief. Theree were tentative pokes at throwing letters at the wall, hoping they would stick, but nothing transpired until Clarke brought Steve Smith back into the attack in the 103rd over. Du Plessis, although solid for over two hours, got done by part-timer Steve Smith pushing after the wrong line and got caught in front of his stumps.
Another letter was on the board: N.
The word started to make sense. At the start of the day it seemed like such an easy word to guess, but when the pressure is on, the psyche starts to rattle and self-doubt can make you question even the most obvious things. By the time Duminy had given another letter away, clipped to the leg slip, it looked like the writing was on the wall with another N chalked up.
But this was not that type of game. And South Africa is not that type of team. Despite a cataclysmic start to the series, they have pushed back over and over again and they weren’t going to give up their dogged attitude any time soon.
The dying overs of the game had nothing deathly about them at all, even with the gallows calling. With just 15.1 overs left to go and a Philander was ducking away from a bouncer which ricocheted in the air, taken by Alex Doolan. The umpire raised his finger and another letter is chalked on.
But Philander made the T-sign and the decision went upstairs. It was overruled because it looked like Philander’s hand was off the bat when he gloved or that he didn’t even glove it at all. Back to the gallows, a wet thumb rubs out the scribbled letter and draws on another limb instead.
South Africans hopes had now started to turn into belief. Philander and Steyn looked like they could be heroes, half broken, tired and up against half broken and tired bowlers, they were just a few minutes away from pulling off a great escape.
But Clarke, that wily old fox, continued the guessing game one more time and threw the ball to Harris who said that he “had to find a new way to run” in the final few overs.
Harris guessed letters in two tries to chances to end the game with the hangman picture needing just two legs to complete it while the letters made up the word: WINNER.
Australia took their victory almost too close for comfort, but showed that their achievement during the Ashes was no fluke. It’s been a while since South Africa were dominated in their own backyard and while they were certainly outplayed in the final Test, it will go down as one of the most memorable contests.
Because when Test cricket is played between two competitive teams it becomes the most absorbing sport in the world – and fans of it wouldn’t have it any other way.
Test cricket, bloody hell. DM
Australia 1st innings: 494-7 declared (David Warner 135, Michael Clarke 161; JP Duminy 4-73)
South Africa 1st innings: 287 all out (Alviro Petersen 53, Faf du Plessis 67; Mitchell Johnson 4-42, Ryan Harris 3-63)
Australia 2nd innings: 303-5 delc (David Warner 145; Kyle Abbott 14-2-61-3)
South Africa 2nd innings: 265 all out (Vernon Philander 51*; Ryan Harris 4-32, Mitchell Johnson 3-92)
Australia won by 245 runs.
Photo: Australia’s players celebrate winning the third cricket test match against South Africa at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Shaun Roy
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