Given some of the difficulties cricket has faced on and off the field in recent times, there is reason to wish that South Africa and Australia played each other all the time. They never fail to serve up exciting, positive, competitive and compelling cricket. Since the excitement of the Australian leg of the series, the commencement of the first test at the Wanderers has been eagerly anticipated and it has not disappointed.
Siddle celebrates; De Villiers drives. The game has been a genuine contest throughout
It has been a real contest between bat and ball, unlike the debacles in Karachi and Barbados which were anything but. It has been test cricket at its most fascinating, the game ebbing and flowing relentlessly and going into the last day all four results are possible. Australia have dominated since around tea on day 1 but South Africa go into the final day fancying their chances of a record-breaking win.
The game has had some epic moments as well. Dale Steyn’s opening burst to take out the Australian top order; a match-shaping century on debut from Marcus North; Mitchell Johnson’s awesome hitting but being left stranded on 96*; South Africa’s fantastic fightback on the fourth day.
For me though, one moment stands out above all others in the match so far. There is nothing funnier in sport than a batsman leaving a straight one. When it happens to an Aussie, it jumps up a notch on the hilarity scale. When it happens to an Australian captain it graduates into the realms of history’s most mirthful moments. And when that captain is Ricky Ponting, well, I would have no complaints if the earth just opened up and swallowed me whole. The strange and concerned looks from my work colleagues, the whisperings among them that it might be time to dig out the strait-jacket and the queries as to whether anyone had any strong sedative on them were utterly worth it as I writhed around on the floor in uncontrollable fits of laughter. Refer that one Ricky.
Which brings me on to the other point of interest in this test series, and also in the West Indies v England series – the referrals experiment. I think it fairly likely that I will go off on a rather lengthier rant about this at a later date but suffice it to say that the system is not sustainable in its current format. While there will always be teething problems, the players are (understandably) confused, the umpires seem (somewhat less understandably) just as confused, nobody seems to know who really has the last word, the technology is being used in a half-hearted fashion and at this stage of the admittedly embryonic experiment, there is no evidence of a visible improvement in the final decision-making and possibly a deterioration.
However, this should not be allowed to detract from what is a fantastic test match. The fifth day promises to be an absolute cracker in which we will find out a lot about these two teams. Are South Africa ready to take that step forward and establish a degree of domination over their old rivals? Or are Australia, despite huge recent upheavals and a turbulent summer, going to show once again that their extraordinary capacity for renewal is as strong as ever?
By Stuart Peel