AUZZIES LEVEL SERIES
A great advertisement for test cricket
by Mark Smit 21 November 2011, 19:37
Australia edged in to win the second and final Sunfoil test at Bidvest Wanderers by two wickets in the dying stages to level the two-test series 1-1.
Report Day 5
South Africa won the first, played in Cape Town, by eight wickets, and so ended a series that has been a wonderful advertisement for test cricket.
The five-day test format had been under pressure from the more instantly gratifying limited overs format and T20, but there have been a spate of tests recently all over the world that have had thrilling conclusions and shown once again that the oldest, and most traditional, format in the game is still alive and kicking.
Graeme Smith will have to ask a few questions of himself and his team before Sri Lanka get here for the next test series starting in the middle of next month.
One question he might ask is why his much-feted bowling attack could not deliver the death blow in this second test?
When South Africa got a 309 lead with Australia to bat once more, they had every reason to feel they could win this match.
They had bowled Australia out for 296 in the first innings, despite a fine opening partnership of 174 by Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes. But in the second innings, despite another fine effort from Vernon Philander, they were unable to.
Steyn took 1-98 in 23 overs in the second innings. This was too expensive for a start, but also what South Africa didn’t need. Steyn has to be constantly aware that he is the go-to guy in the South African bowling attack and when the chips are down, such as they were in the last innings of the test, he is the one expected to have the major influence on developments.
The thing is he, like any other bowler in the world, can have a bad test and so the importance of Philander’s great efforts in this series is magnified.
Bowlers are said to hunt best in packs, and no team should ever have to rely on any one bowler.
Australia had Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, the West Indies, at their height, had a crop of them in Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Colin Croft.
All the top batsmen have batted well in spurts, but if Smith is going to talk to anyone, he must talk to AB de Villiers.
The Titans batsman is probably the most naturally gifted of all the South African top six. But, so often, he bats as if it is not up to him to win games, but up to everyone else. His shot selection is often really hairy and he has that infuriating knack of finding ways to get himself out.
De Villiers made 73 in South Africa’s second innings. From there, with his talent, he should have got to his 100. But he wafted at one from Pat Cummins and was caught behind.
If De Villiers performs to his full potential, the South African top six will be formidable.
‘BIG TICK FOR TEST CRICKET’
The closing press conferences were the usual flurry of regrets, congratulations and plaudits, with young bowlers Cummins and Philander singled out for praise.
Smith said to pick out the batsmen as the culprits was a fair assessment, “but you have to give Australia’s bowlers their due. I still think a target of 309 was a good one.”
Philander said his strength was seaming the ball in and out and, knowing the Wanderers as well as he did, he thought it would suit him.
Smith felt his bowlers bowled well on day five but Australia’s top batsmen performed when it was needed. He said the morning session in which South Africa lost four wickets, including that of De Villiers, was disappointing.
Smith said he knew his decision to bring on Imran Tahir in the last over was a brave one, “but Cummins had done quite well against pace, so I thought Imran might be able to do something. I had been thinking about it but it took three overs for me to get around to it.”
Smith had high praise for Ricky Ponting; “He is one of the most competitive players I have ever come across and he’s been a great credit to Australia.”
He said this series had been “a big tick for test cricket. Both teams left everything out there.”
Michael Clarke said the Australian cricket media did not owe him any apologies and that the facts showed his side had performed really well.
“After a horrible batting performance in Cape Town — I was not proud of that — we did very well today. I was confident we could win the game today and a lot of credit needs to go to our lower middle order. But I was as nervous as anyone though.
“I counted every run and I am thrilled as I could be. It was horrible to see the weather this morning but someone up there was looking after us and so we were able to get there.”
He revealed that there had been a backroom conference about what to say to Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson while they were batting and everntually, “we decided to say nothing — to let Brad and Mitchell play their own way was the best.”
He said the way the series had panned out was probably a fair reflection on both teams.
Clarke said Cummins was an amazing talent, and not just as a bowler. “He bats well too. But we have to be smart and look after him.”
He said he wanted the team to enjoy the experience of playing for Australia as the best time of their lives and that he would love to see Ricky Ponting continue to be a big part of Australian cricket.
South African coach Gary Kirsten had a few final words: “I think it was one of those series with both sides letting it slip and then pulling in it back brilliantly.
“We could have improved our concentration levels but overall it was a fantastic test series. I have been enjoying coaching this side thoroughly and the new guys coming into the side have made a fantastic contribution.”
He said from his point of view he would like to give new players a decent runs. “To give them just two games and making them feel their every move is being watched is not a good idea.”