Although it has got rather lost in the noise surrounding England’s complete and utter implosion, Australia saved some face by defeating South Africa in the third and final test. They won fairly comfortably in the end after a last day which began with South Africa set the tantalising challenge of 314 runs with 8 or 9 wickets in hand (depending on whether Graeme Smith fancied rustling up a Colin Cowdrey impression and batting with his arm in a cast.
The game was up really in the first session of the day when McKenzie, Amla and Kallis were all removed, although such has been the productivity of South Africa’s tail you couldn’t be too sure. In the end, Smith, hard as nails, marched out with arm in plaster and the chronic elbow injury he has been carrying throughout his recent golden period to try to survive 8 overs. He failed, but it was a pretty brave effort from the South African skipper.
Australia have been well on top for most of this test match, basically because they cared more. This may seem a strange comment but South Africa used up so much mental and physical energy in the first two tests and were so elated at winning the series that they had slightly burned themselves out. Australia on the other hand had their status as world number one team to defend and a hell of a lot of lost pride to start salvaging.
They went about it pretty well. After the mandatory early loss of Hayden (not too many tears will be shed around the world if he has played his last test), and sinking to 162-5, the increasingly impressive Michael Clarke scored an outstanding hundred in the first innings, ably supported by Mitchell Johnson to further support the theory that these two teams should really think about reversing their batting orders.
After conceding 445, Australia’s highest score of the series, South Africa reached 327-9, losing Smith to a broken hand. It was a frustrating innings as all of the top 8 reached double figures but only Mark Boucher passed 51. Peter Siddle stepped up in the absence of Brett Lee to take 5 wickets. From there on in, it was an old-fashioned Australian performance with a target being set well by the batsmen and the bowlers doing their stuff.
I maintain that Australia are still a force and the worry for South Africa is that Australia may have gained just a little momentum going into the return series. There is no doubt which team will enter that series with more confidence but do not underestimate the importance of momentum, or the determination of an Aussie team with their backs to the wall. If they follow the example of their captain, South Africa should have nothing to spare and this was after all a dead rubber. But Australia have a glimmer of hope now and suddenly, with England in such an unadulterated mess, they are looking rather stronger for the Ashes. South Africa though, still look the strongest in the world
By Stuart Peel