There are some series, like the recent Ashes, that you wish were over quickly. There are others, like the clash between Australia and South Africa, that you wish went on longer. Considering that all three games of the Australia-SA series ended in lop-sided victories for one side or the other, this may sound strange but true cricket enthusiasts will agree with me.
The just concluded Third Test was one for the ages, one that we will long remember. What a fantastic day’s cricket on Day 5 as South Africa fought hard to the end and almost denied Australia a series clinching victory. First. night-watchman Abbot defied the Aussie attack for almost two hours; then indomitable defense from de Villiers and du Plessis . Later, stouthearted resistance from Philander and the injured Dale Steyn who held Johnson and Co. at bay for 75 agonizing minutes often with 8 and 9 fielders crouched in close in catching positions. When it seemed that South Africa would escape with a well-earned draw, Ryan Harris summoned up his last reserves of strength and yorked both Steyn and Morkel in the space of three deliveries. What an unbelievable finish! Even though the last day’s play produced less than 200 runs, the cricket was gripping and had fans on the edge of our seats. Even for me, following the cricket on Cricinfo in far-off America, it was a nail biter. On the one hand I wanted the Aussies to win because they were clearly the superior side, yet I didn’t want South Africa to lose after their fantastic fight-back.
Even in the earlier two Tests, there was plenty to admire. Mitch Johnson’s fearsome pace in the first test and de Villier’s admirable batting display in both innings. Such a pity he missed a century in the first innings. In the second South Africa’s remarkable turnaround the likes of which I have never seen, Chris Rogers defiant second innings century and of course Dale Steyn’s return to form. All great stuff that left us wanting more and the third Test didn’t disappoint.
Australia are clearly in the ascendant, their rebuilding complete. Of course, their success owes a lot to Mitchell Johnson and his ability to terrorize opposing batsmen and yes, Ryan Harris will be going under the knife shortly but they seem to be loaded with talent. The top order batting is occasionally brittle but the gutsy Rogers and the emergence of Doolan solidify a line-up that boasts Clarke, Watson, Marsh and Smith with Khawaja, Hughes and others waiting in the wings. Their bowling too has a plethora of fast and fast medium pacemen champing at the bit. I don’t know if they have officially replaced South Africa at the top of the Test standings but , in my book, they certainly are Number 1.
As for South Africa , if they are not number 1, they certainly are a close Number 2. Steyn , Morne Morkel and Philander are almost as good as the Aussie pacemen and the batting is formidable. Even with the retirements of Kallis and Smith, the Proteas still have the number 1 Test batsman in the world, de Villiers, in addition to the classy, Hashim Amla, J.P. Duminy and others. On a neutral ground, I’d favor them against any other side in the world except Australia.
One last comment. I wish Graeme Smith had a better final series. He has been great for South Africa over the years and his departure leaves the Proteas a big hole to fill. They may well have an opening batsman to take Smith’s place at the top of the order but What they will miss is his leadership and his fighting spirit. Best wishes to you in your retirement, Graeme. You will be missed.