The margin of victory for South Africa against Australia in the series-clinching Perth Test was a whopping 309 runs, but the way they went about their job gave a feeling that this is how champion teams fare in crunch matches – clinical and convincing. It seemed there was a different South Africa in the series till Day 4 of the Adelaide Test – patchy and scratchy- but once the epic draw was achieved there, the tables had turned dramatically.
The marathon final day of the Adelaide Test left South Africa buoyed and Australia exhausted. South Africa’s great escape not only psychologically weaken Australia, but also ensured that the hosts’ best fast bowlers were kept out of the Perth Test – the game that mattered most. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were forced to miss the final Test, and South Africa fully seized the advantage, going on to record their second biggest win against Australia. The margin would have been even wider if not for an entertaining last-wicket stand of 87 between tail-enders Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon – Starc top-scoring with 68*.
It was Faf du Plessis again who came to South Africa’s rescue on the first day. Brimming with confidence after his Adelaide innings, du Plessis’ made an unbeaten 78. The visitors were 75/6 and Australia had their tails up, but that was to be Australia’s last few successes in the Test. Replying to 225, Australia collapsed to 45/6 before reaching 163. Dale Steyn finally fired in the series, and the rest of the bowlers backed up well. What followed in the second innings was a ruthless assault on Australia’s second-string pace attack.
South Africa scored 569 at a mind-boggling rate of 5.08 runs an over. Every bowler was taken apart, although Starc took 6/154. Greame Smith, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers all cashed in and buried Australia under the mountain of a huge lead. Interestingly never once did it feel that south Africa were rushing things – Amla hardly seemed to be attacking, yet he was striking at a rate of 89 throughout his 196 – affirming his reputation as a batsman of great class. And de Villiers, who made 33 off 220 at Adelaide, cracked 169 in 184! Adaptability is the key to success indeed.
That was that then, the target of 632 was too Utopian to be scaled even though there were two full days. Ricky Ponting’s last Test innings fetched only 8 runs, and his last series 32 runs in 5 innings. The man who has played in the most Test wins ever saw his team crash to a massive defeat. It was an anti-climatic end to a great career – but then that is cricket, as is life. South Africa meanwhile made sure that they ended the calendar year as champions, and without a single defeat.
Australia, especially captain Michael Clarke (who scored 2 double-tons in the series), will be ruing about not being able to close out the Proteas at Adelaide – but they themselves had the same never-say-die spirit in their heydays under Steve Waugh and then a certain Ricky Ponting. South Africa’s spirit is to be applauded, for they have proved with this final victory that they are the best team in the world.
Back-to-back series wins in both England and Australia is a great effort – no wonder Greame Smith is calling it the ‘proudest achievement of his career’. Whether Smith’s men go on to match the Aussies of the last decade remains to be seen – but they have made a massive statement by winning at the WACA.