Australia’s debacle at Hobart seems to have cast a shadow over the superlative performance of South Africa Down Under. A lot has been said about how badly the Aussies have coped in recent times, how crooked their current system seems to be in; be it the selection process or the first class system. No words to mince, Australian cricket is in shambles.
But how about South Africa’s resurrection? How about du Plessis’ captaincy? How about the resilience and discipline shown by the Proteas? The Proteas have done many things right to be in the position they are now. It isn’t just because the Aussies capitulated that the Proteas went two-nil up at Hobart.
From losing the 1st wicket in the 1st over of the 1st Test to being half the side down to just 81 runs, the 1st session went all awry for du Plessis after boldly opting to bat. Looking at the plight of the Proteas, Kevin Pietersen, sitting in the commentary box, went on to say that a team may well lose the match in the 1st session by batting 1st at Perth but not so if they opted to bowl.
Not only did the Proteas post a decent total of 242, helped by half-centuries from Bavuma and de Kock, they even went on to restrict the Aussies to 244, and that after Warner and Marsh had put on 158 runs for the opening wicket. Though du Plessis lost the services of Dale Steyn half way through the Aussie innings, Philander and Rabada made sure he felt no pain of that loss.
What followed was just a fairy tale that du Plessis could have hoped for. Elgar put behind his Perth nightmare and Duminy rewound his old memories, to score centuries of contrasting styles. Later Rabada put up a reverse bowling master class to bundle the Aussies out.
“It’s never easy with two seamers. KG was phenomenal, to run in for 30 overs,” said a relieved du Plessis after the match.
In the absence of Steyn, Rabada had to bowl longer spells than usual in the 2nd innings. For someone who builds up such pace, 8-over spells can be torturous but Rabada didn’t complain. At the other end, the debutant, Maharaj, kept one end tight. He bowled 40 overs with an economy of 2.34. The bowling unit stuck to the plan.
At Hobart, under overcast conditions, there was no stopping Vernon Philander. He and Abbott, utilized the conditions to the fullest, bowled as a pair and gave little away. Though Morkel was touted to replace Steyn, South Africa went in with Abbott and he proved his worth with a match-winning 6-wicket haul.
It wasn’t all about swing. There was a meticulous planning too. When the condition turned slightly drier, both Philander and Abbott tied up the runs with some very tight line and length. Philander went without a run for 5 overs on the 4th morning.
Usman Khawaja was the victim of it as he went after a wide one from Abbott. So was Voges, to whom nothing was gifted and after a series of pitched up balls, Abbott surprised him with a sharp bouncer which he couldn’t fend off.
On the 4th morning, Smith went without a run for 40 min during which he faced 24 balls without adding a thing to his overnight score of 18. But Smith looked solid in defence to the balls pitched up, he either played them confidently on the front foot or left them without much harm.
But then Rabada softened him up with a couple of short balls before forcing him to play at one which he hadn’t bothered to play the whole morning. So when Plan A wasn’t yielding, South Africans had Plan B up their sleeves to strangle the Aussie batsmen. They were prepared.
The intent was visible in their fielding too. Be it Bavuma’s air-borne throw to find Warner short at Perth or be it de Kock’s acrobatics behind the stumps or be it the slip catching by Duminy and Amla, the Proteas didn’t give an inch away. They held on to their chances and went on to win.
South Africa, sans ABD and Steyn, surprised the Aussies in their own backyard. For this to happen, the Proteas did a lot of things the right way. From taking bold decisions to sticking on to their plans, South Africa displayed great intent. When the chips were down they fought back, when there was a door to be shut, they shut it.
Yes, Australia is in shambles. That is another story.
But South Africa won purely by the quality of cricket they played at Perth and Hobart. That is the South African story.