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TEST CRICKET

Proteas grind out draw against Australia in final Test match, ending a tumultuous tour

Proteas grind out draw against Australia in final Test match, ending a tumultuous tour
Temba Bavuma of South Africa looks dejected after being dismissed on day four of the Third Test against Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground on 7 January 2023. (Photo: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images)

The Proteas — particularly with the bat — had a tough time during their three-match Test series against Australia. However, on the final day of the closing game, they dug deep to salvage a draw, but it was too little, too late.

On the last day of their final match against Australia, in a three-game Test series that they had already lost after crushing defeats in the first two matches, South Africa’s batters showed the type of fight that was absent as the hosts took the contest away from them with a match to spare.

Needing to dig their heels in to avoid an embarrassing 3-0 whitewash, South Africa’s brittle batting unit threatened to once again capitulate. This was after Australia’s pace pairing of captain Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood ripped through the Proteas’ top order, leaving the tourists reeling on 137 for six as they chased the Baggy Greens’ first innings total of 475 for four (declared).

However, South Africa’s tail wagged emphatically — with Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer contributing to the team’s pursuit of a draw in the rain-plagued contest.

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Australia celebrate with the trophy on day five of the Third Test match against South Africa at Sydney Cricket Ground on 8 January 2023. (Photo: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)

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Travis Head of Australia celebrates dismissing Marco Jansen of South Africa on day four of the Third Test against Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground on 7 January 2023. (Photo: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)

Jansen only made 11 runs. However, it took him 78 crucial balls (some of which were vicious body blows launched directly at him by Australia’s pacers) to reach the mark, as he helped the seconds and minutes tick along during the Proteas’ last-ditch effort to save some face on the tour with a draw.

When Australia were eventually able to uproot the stubborn Jansen in the 74th over, they would have breathed a sigh of relief. After all, they needed just three quick wickets to ensure the visitors followed on. But up stepped Maharaj and Harmer in a partnership that exemplified South Africa’s fighting spirit for this particular match — though it was too little, too late.

Maharaj top-scored for his team’s first innings in the number nine batting berth, landing a flurry of counter-punches on Australia’s bowlers during the opening session of the fifth and final day. 

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The spinner collected 53 runs from 81 balls, in an innings consisting of six boundaries — plus one maximum.

Harmer and Maharaj — chosen as two specialist spinners for the Proteas in this match — would have never imagined their finest moments of the tour would be with the bat.

Nevertheless, they will certainly be pleased at how they frustrated their rivals for almost two hours while adding 80 for the eighth wicket from 161 balls faced as they pushed the Proteas’ total beyond 250. It was just the second time during their tour of Australia that the South Africans had reached the 200-run mark.

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Marnus Labuschagne of Australia bowls on day five of the Third Test against Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground on 8 January 2023. (Photo: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)

Australia bounced back after the lunch break with Hazlewood again in the thick of it. The paceman quickly trapped Maharaj leg before wicket — ending the gutsy eighth-wicket partnership. It was a superb innings from Maharaj and he was rewarded with his fifth Test half-century.

That was all Australia needed to sweep away the final two wickets, with Hazlewood bowling Harmer and Nathan Lyon disposing of Kagiso Rabada, caught and bowled, as the Proteas failed by 20 runs to avoid the follow-on — 255 all out.

The resistance continues

Knowing that they were running out of overs to force a victory and whitewash the tourists, after rain washed away day three, Australia were in a hurry to mow down the Proteas in the second innings.

The hosts’ eyes would have lit up when Proteas skipper Dean Elgar once again lost his wicket cheaply, at the beginning of the ninth over in South Africa’s second innings. He was dismissed by his counterpart Cummins and caught by wicketkeeper Alex Carey after carelessly gloving a short-pitched ball.

Sarel Erwee (42 not out, off 125 balls) and Heinrich Klaasen then dug their heels in for nearly 20 overs to further dent the series whitewash hopes of the home side. Klaasen was eventually bowled for 35 by Hazlewood, but Erwee — with Temba Bavuma (17 not out, off 42 balls) — batted out the next 15 overs to seal a hard-fought draw for South Africa. Play ended with the Proteas on 106 for two.  

“We had a conversation last night — just the players — around [the fact] that we can either go lie down and just let Australia roll us here and create a little bit more embarrassment. Or we were actually going to go out and fight on day five, which we knew we were going to get a full day’s play in,” Elgar told journalists after the match.

“It’s great to see how the guys responded. There are a lot of learnings out of the happenings of today. The flipside could’ve been that we could’ve been done here by lunchtime — which would’ve not sat very well amongst our camp.”

Elgar was honest about how he and the team felt, particularly after the second match of the series, where the Australians thrashed them by an innings and 182 runs to seal the series.

“Hurt. Embarrassed. I’d say they work hand in hand [to describe how we’ve felt in Australia]. Maybe it’s a little bit less now. After the second game those two words would have been a lot stronger,” Elgar said.

“But after showing a lot of fight and some positive signs in this game, it’s sitting a lot better with me… But you have to be honest — we’re an immensely proud nation and we play to win.”

“It’s been tough. We lost to a better team. More skilled. More experienced. And today to come out and fight the way we did was quite encouraging. From the start, we knew we had to bat way above our average in order to compete,” added Proteas interim coach Malibongwe Maketa.

Testing times

Cricket South Africa (CSA) confirmed in 2022 that with the launch of the SA20 T20 league, the focus would shift to growing the country’s cricket in the shortest format. As a result, Test cricket will take a knock, with CSA hoping that the newly launched league (which begins on Tuesday) will over time put them on the same financial level as Australia and India.

“International cricket doesn’t stop for our internal competitions, but we had to carve out space. We have chosen to have fewer Test matches,” CSA CEO Pholetsi Moseki told Daily Maverick in 2022 to explain the Proteas’ lean Test schedule for the upcoming international cycles.

However, while South Africa focuses on growing the SA20, which it hopes will help balance the books, the top three cricketing nations (India, Australia and England) will also continue with their growth — across all formats.

“It’s important for us to be honest with ourselves in terms of where we are. We had a tough series in England. We’ve had a tough series here in Australia. And, as a country, we want to be competing with the so-called top three. But the truth is, we don’t have the Test caps that they have, at the moment,” Maketa told journalists from Sydney.

Sunday’s draw all but guarantees Australia a place in the World Test Championship final, scheduled for June 2023. All they need to do is avoid a whitewash against their next opponents, second-placed India.

As for the Proteas, it’s back to the drawing board before they finish this Test cycle with two matches against the West Indies, starting at the end of February. DM

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  • Grenville Wilson says:

    The only thing SA seems to have going for them is a fighting spirit, and our Journo’s speak about it as if it makes us the finest Test team in the world. The Journo’s also seem to avoid talking about what is really wrong with our Cricket and never seem to ask the right questions of SA cricket(is this because going there might be perceived as being “Politically Incorrect”?).

  • Christopher Campbell says:

    Thank goodness Pula was brought in for the last test!

  • Michael Davies says:

    While I do not profess to be a cricketing expert, one would worry with the level of performance on the batsman this year and some of the dubious captaincy decisions against England and Australia.
    DO we not have better batsman in the wings?
    DO they not want to play for the Proteas, or are they not bein picked?
    DO we not need to identify some powerful younsters and bring them through?

    Where are Riley Rousseau, Aidan Markram, Pieter and Jannaman Malan, Ryan Rickelton, Dewald Brewis, Reeza Hendriks. Is it not time to make a change in Captain and bring some youth into the fold?

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Why is it that a country which has regularly over many decades had batsmen such as Dudley Nourse, Jackie Mc Glew, Graeme Pollock, Johnny Waite, Ali Bacher, AB De Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, Roy McLean, Graham Smith, and I could go on forever quoting world class names, all of a sudden cannot suddenly put together a good batting “six”? Is the problem in CSA not to blame?

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