Saturday, 17 January 2009

Sporting Pick's of 2008: Part 5 - December 21st – South Africa (281 & 414/4) beat Australia (375 & 319) by 6 wickets

South Africa completed the second-highest successful run chase in Test history as they made 414-4 to beat Australia in the first Test in Perth.

The tourists began the final day on 227-3, with Jacques Kallis (57) and AB de Villiers at the crease. Mitchell Johnson removed Kallis - his 11th wicket of the match - at 303-4. But de Villiers made a sparkling 106 not out, adding 111 for the fifth wicket with debutant JP Duminy (50 not out) as the Proteas cruised home.
The all-time record Test run chase was West Indies' 418-7 against Australia in Antigua in 2003.

& December 30th – South Africa (459 & 183/1) beat Australia (394 & 247) by 9 wickets.
South Africa won a first Test series in Australia with a nine-wicket triumph at the MCG, becoming the first team in 16 years to beat the Aussies on home soil. Resuming on 30-0 in search of 183, they needed 42 more overs, Graeme Smith firing 10 fours in a commanding 75.
Neil McKenzie made an unbeaten 59 and Hashim Amla (30) hit the winning runs.
South Africa can inflict a first home whitewash on Australia and move top of the world rankings by winning the final Test in Sydney, starting on Saturday (3rd January).

Far be it for this to turn into some sort of obituary for the great Australia Test cricket team (one Australian newspaper has already mocked up a thomestone for Australian cricket already, see below), but South Africa’s series win in Australia has been the sporting result of the year. Yet when the Saffer’s pitched up at Lords for the start of their test series in England, they looked out of sorts. England racked up 500+ and enforced the follow-on. South Africa then ground out a draw, and then won at Headingley and Edgbaston to take the series. However their achievement in winning in Australia is on another level entirely. The last side to do that was the West Indies side of 1992/3 who scraped a win 2 and a half years before being dethroned as test cricket’s finest by Australia themselves.

For Australia however, this represents the end of an era. The aura of invincibility has gone. While there are mitigating circumstances, the loss of Jaques, Watson, Lee, Symonds and Stuart Clarke through injury have been crucial. What this has shown is that the conveyor belt of talent which Australia had in the 1990’s is somewhat dry at the moment. Australia have had almost 3 years to try and fix the problems with their middle order, when Martyn, Michael Clarke and Katich were blown away by England’s mastery of reverse swing in 2005. The Australian middle order was always the core of the Australian batting line up, with the Waugh twins, Border and even Ricky Ponting (before his ‘promotion’ to No#3 at the start of the 2001 Ashes) being its key performers. What has proved irreplaceable though has been the utter genius of Shane Warne, both with the ball and his ability to read a game.

Overall, Australia’s inability to fill the shoes of Warne & McGrath has been their downfall. In the first test Australia had dominated for 3 days, manoeuvring themselves into setting the Saffers an imposing target of 414 to win, with 5 full sessions to spare. While South Africa deserve the plaudits for winning with 6 wickets to spare, it must have come as a blow to Australia to find themselves unable to successfully defend 414 runs. Its not that the Australians had any warning, South Africa’s win at Edgebaston was the highest successful run chase on that ground (278). Smith, unlike that day in Edgebaston, only set down foundations with his fourth day 108, with De Villiers 106 not out closing out the game.

For the Second Test, Australia only dominated for a day and a half, collapsing once Ponting made his century on day 1, and building key lower order partnerships through part of day 2, before reducing South Africa to 198/7 by the end of day 2. Day 3 brought the unlikely partnership which put Australia behind the 8 ball. Australia’s inability to knock over South Africa’s number 9, Dale Steyn, saw them concede 180 runs for the 9th wicket. When Australia were skittled out for 247 about half an hour before the close of day four, the Australians must have realised the game was up, even if the target was a defendable 183.

While this signifies the end of an era, with the return rubber due next month. This doesn’t necessary follow that South Africa are the king’s of Test Cricket, Australia are still clinging on, while India have a good argument for that accolade. This era of the 5 day game will be a more uncertain one.

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