The second highest run chase in test history, has quickened that the Proteas have sought over their cricketing nemesis, the once mighty Australians.
The once mighty Australians on paper an unfair comment—this is a team that has strode the world conquering all opposition; in some cases with almost preposterous ease.
Ricky Ponting remarked that if the impossible was achieved and Australia lost their number one test ranking to South Africa in this series, (it would take a 3-0 result to the Proteas for this to occur) that it would not be an accurate reflection of the world’s pecking order.
I must disagree. As much credence as we must give to the reign of the Baggy Green, there is an almost eerie feeling that we are about to witness cricketing history. The end of the hegemony that many would state overtook the great West Indians teams as the most influential international cricketing force the world has ever seen.
I am not South African and in the past have argued their many portents that they are the superpower in waiting of the cricketing world. But on the basis of not only their recent performances but this victory gives them much credence. South Africa has not beaten Australia in a series since 1969-1970—and never has accomplished this in Australia. They have not lost a series in two years, and only two straight victories by the home team can stop this impressive statistic.
Many remark this is a new model of the South African cricket team. In 2005-2006 Graeme Smith and his team arrived in Australia and made all the right noises but did not follow this up with the necessary action. They were duly reminded of the pecking order. John Buchannan and his team of champions ensured there would be no tilting of the balance.
But this series Smith and his team arrived on the shores of the most intimidating cricketing arena in the world making little noise, preferring to let their form and roster do the talking. Ironically, Tim Nielsen and Ricky Ponting this series made a point to focus on South Africa’s poor record against Australia and that history would ensure the desirable result for the home team.
Smith later admitted that in the 2005 series that his bluster was meant to divert attention away from his developing team—it appears now that Australia was trying to implement the same strategy.
Australia is the number one ranked team in the world, but this is a position that owes more to its past dominance rather than its current strength. Series wins against the West Indies and New Zealand – the cellar dwellers of world cricket—only painted over the rust and cracks that were developing over Australia’s overshadowing shine.
As South Africa came closer to the once imposing fourth innings target of 400 plus, it was obvious that Australia, Ponting and other senior players were annoyed at the state of affairs. This is not a team accustomed to losing, but it appears that they had better learn fast.
There was no Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath to step up and rectify the status quo for the might of the Baggy Green. Peter Siddle and Jason Krejza are being given opportunities—but it is hard to believe Ponting when he says that both men are test standard.
They are an oddity amongst Australian test players, the hardest mantle to achieve in the cricketing world—that being that they are not battle hardened in the first class rigours of state cricket.
Neither could manage a second innings wickets, and Brett Lee, who used to be the Australian pace attack spearhead, could only manage the one wicket, despite bowling well and with venom.
Mitchell Johnson, who appears to now be the pre-eminent strike weapon in Australia’s arsenal, did manage 11 wickets in an outstanding match—but that was not enough.
It is one thing that Australia could not defend a mammoth 414 runs; it is another entirely that they could not manage it in one of their terrifying strongholds—that of the bounce of the WACA.
There are now glaring issues for Australia, but we are now unsure whether the malaise is being caused by their batting, bowling, or something more insidious.
Matthew Hayden will dread a finger on his shoulder now more than any other player—men with just as impressive records have had their career’s ended by selector’s whims. Mr Cricket Michael Hussey seems to appear human for the first time in his short illustrious cricket career, and even in form players such as Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds throw away their cricket in a manner unbecoming of players of the “world’s best team.”
Now South Africa have all the momentum, and Australia have their nine boxing day match winning streak under its most serious threat. They must also come back from 1-0 down to win the three test series, something that Australia has not achieved in 130 years of their history.