24 February 2014
There are plenty of statistics in cricket. One thing that cannot be quantified, however, is character, but there was plenty of it on show in the second test in Port Elizabeth as South Africa thrashed Australia by 231 runs in four days to reverse a massive defeat in the first test.
Graeme Smith and company are the world’s number one ranked team, but some had questioned their position after the Aussies, fresh off a 5-0 whitewash of England, had crushed the Proteas by 281 runs in Centurion. At St George’s Park starting last Thursday, South Africa completely turned the tables.
It was a stunning victory for other reasons too. Before the game, the Proteas were forced into a number of changes, with Ryan McLaren missing out with a concussion and Alviro Petersen being ruled out because of illness. Then, early in the game, Wayne Parnell suffered an injury, thus removing one of the South Africans’ front-line bowlers from their attack. Still, they found a way to win.
On the first day the pitch appeared slow and low, and scoring was difficult. The big question was how was either of the teams going to take 20 wickets to win the match.
Then, on Sunday, having set Australia 448 for victory, the Aussies cruised to 126 without loss before losing their 10 wickets for the addition of only 90 runs. It was an incredible turnaround, spearheaded by Dale Steyn, who bowled superbly when the ball started to reverse swing.
His two dismissals of Brad Haddin, almost carbon copies of one another, were brilliant examples of reverse swing, with Steyn sending the wicketkeeper’s middle stump cartwheeling on both occasions.
“We always know that Dale is one spell away from being able to create something for us and it’s nice to know you have people in your team like that,” Proteas captain Graeme Smith said at a post-match press conference.
“The intensity we showed in both innings with the ball was impressive. On a wicket that probably didn’t offer that match, we worked hard at getting reverse swing and the bowlers responded.”
Looking back on his side’s reversal of fortune, Smith added: “The week building up [to the second test] was a tough week for us. We needed to be smart. We needed to be clinical. We needed to have good ideas of how we were going to respond.
“I don’t think many teams would have been able to respond like we did to the defeat we faced in Pretoria, and I’ve seen some terrific victories from this team and nine wickets in a session is really something special.”
In Port Elizabeth, a number of South African players whose form had been questioned answered their critics in style.
JP Duminy, whose batting had come under the spotlight, notched his third test century and claimed two important wickets, including the one that set the Australian slide on its way in the second innings. He won the man of the match award, while Hashim Amla, who by his own standards had been strangely quiet against India and in the first test against the Australians, followed up a first innings duck with an unbeaten 127 second time out.
Dean Elgar, who replaced Alviro Petersen at the top of the order, played a very important knock of 83 in South Africa’s first innings and did a fine job sharing the spinning duties with Duminy.
AB de Villiers continued his run of form with an assured first innings century, while Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, who bowled as fast as he ever has, sometimes topping 150 km/h, both made telling contributions to the South African victory.
As good as the Australians were at SuperSport Park, their performance in Port Elizabeth was sub-standard.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon was solid in South Africa’s first innings, sending down a mammoth 46 overs and picking up 5 for 130. On the batting side of things, David Warner sparkled with 70 and 66, although his efforts were helped by some poor South African catching, while fellow opener Chris Rogers stood firm while the Aussies’ second innings crumbled, scoring 107 out of their innings of 216, which also included 21 extras.
There was little else to enthuse about for the Australians and captain Michael Clarke, with typical forthrightness, admitted after the match that they had been outplayed in all three facets of the game.
Outplayed they might have been, but the third test is a new game and if any other team besides South Africa is capable of dramatically reversing their fortunes, it is Australia. That’s what makes the forthcoming showdown such an exciting prospect for cricket fans.
The third and final test takes place at Newlands in Cape Town, starting on Saturday, 1 March. The eyes of the cricket world will be watching.