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South Africa – Slaying their demons

December 30, 2008

On their own, they are indistinguishable, the Aussie and the South African cricket teams. It doesn’t help that both teams have green and gold on their team crests or that they both have one person on the team who’s not Caucasian. Both have their share of Hercules-sized batsmen who twirl the bat like it was a baton. Ok, no self-respecting cricketer’s twirling anything, but you get the idea. Both tend to whittle down the opposition’s score before even getting in to bat by charging after, sliding and stopping what are four-shots for other teams. Maybe the Aussies used to be better at holding onto blinders coming off edges while the Springboks were merely very good. Even that wouldn’t show up on a split-screen showing the teams playing other opponents. When they played each other however, the world champions, yes, they are still that, would brush aside their seemingly evenly-matched opponents. There were two big reasons

S.K. Warne: 24 matches – 130 wickets at 24.16. Sure, he’s famous for having made English middle-order batsman start a motion, pun intended, to get the test cricket whites replaced with varying shades of yellow but his hold over South Africa was even more creditable because unlike the poms, South African openers didn’t always give the slips batting practice against Glenn Mcgrath and Co.
Asphyxiation (aka Choking): If cricket matches were B-grade horror movies, Australia was the psycho-killer that kept coming back after you’d run him over with your car, pushed him over a cliff, dropped a ton of rubble on him and set him on fire. It seemed gut-wrenching even to me, as an unpartisan observer, when Gilchrist took off the bails in that last over the world cup semi-final with Allan Donald and Lance Klusener looking at each other five yards apart. And yet, you couldn’t but assign the tag that’s followed them around the world for so many years. Australia are (were?) simply way better at making the last-gasp play that decided games.

They switched places this series. While Australia routinely failed to ram home advantages, the South Africans kept coming back from the brink to win, not just sessions, but days. It became almost expected to watch an Aussie wicket fall when the end of a session was nigh. Paul Harris was streets ahead in looking dangerous compared to Nathan Hauritz.

Experts now reckon Australia had it all wrong, right from the team selection (Malcolm Conn believes Shane Watson was the answer, wonder what he’d say if he’d pulled up in the middle of his first spell), poor form (Hayden, Lee, Hussey) to maybe even their brand of cereal at breakfast. After winning three ODI world cups and dominating every other team in test cricket, suddenly Ricky Ponting can’t seem to anything right, with everything from his tactics to his selection procedures being questioned. Of course, had he replaced any of those struggling for form earlier in the season, he’d be accused of destabilizing a team that had already lost key personnel to retirement. There’s not much percentage in being Punter right now.

The bottom-line however is that South Africa played sensational cricket over the first two test matches, the kind of cricket that they were always capable of playing, but never seemed to. But I’m certainly not writing the Aussies off just yet. Freddie isn’t that easy to kill.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Dsylexic permalink
    December 31, 2008 3:40 pm

    Ponting won 3 world cups?. News to me.
    Ponting is indeed a top batsman.But he just didnt need to show any tactical genius except call upon Warnie or McGrath or watch Gilly go about his business.He is not like a Stephen Fleming who maximized the returns of his modest team.

    Anyone could have been the captain of the greats in the aussie team.Even my dead grandma

    • December 31, 2008 4:53 pm

      Dsylexic, “the older i get, the faster i was”, meaning, it’s easy to attribute god-like abilities to the likes of mcgrath and warne now that they aren’t around. Warne has an average of 47 against India in tests and yet India didn’t beat them too many times (except those 2 test matches). Mcgrath too has been dealt with over sessions by Indian batsmen. What no team could do was to keep all of them out. If Mcgrath didn’t get you, Gillespie or Kasprowicz or Lee or Warne or hell, even Michael Clarke would get you. Thats what makes them a formidable side. Write them off at your own peril.

  2. petes permalink
    December 31, 2008 4:54 pm

    “If cricket matches were B-grade horror movies, Australia was the psycho-killer that kept coming back after you’d run him over with your car, pushed him over a cliff, dropped a ton of rubble on him and set him on fire.”

    Awesome line that. Captures the essence of what makes world-beaters in any sport. off the top of my head, Federer comes to mind.

    Haven’t too much of a head in me to carry figures, dates & statistics in my mind, even though cricket has always been on my mind eversince I caught flickerin black & white images at Chennai (then Madras) of WI’s exciting tour of India mid-70s (was it 75? or 74?). I would hold SA’s first tour to India (in fact their first ever, post the aparthied phase, early 90’s), equally etched in me. There was always an element of wanting to use the sporting field to hit back at “those aparthied whites”- then. And the small series was well fought.

    Very soon SA dusted their mantles and regained ther rightful place as a team to be admired and respected in world cricket (India have never really stamped their authority over them even two decades after).

    But over these years SA, for me, and i suspect to many others, had come to personify a team with a certain “tut tut…”, when pondered over. Enough has been written, smoked over and commented about this. “Chokers” was a schoolboy tag they wore on their sleeves for far too long.

    I have now been grinning like an idiot for the past few days. Yes, seems like they have finally slayed demons of their own…. Truly, welcome back SA! Great write-up ‘donthaveclue’!!

    • January 1, 2009 9:44 pm

      Thanks Pete. You’re right about how this series win is more about SA finally delivering on that promise of competing against Australia than of Australia’s failures. Australia at their best caused their opponents to make mistakes to give away advantages which is exactly what SA have done to them. What better than competitive high-quality test cricket

  3. January 1, 2009 8:30 pm

    This was a clinical effort by SA and it was amazing how well they played in crunch situations. I think more than anything, it was the newer players who didnt choke and held the reins of the match together.

    The Aussies seemed to be choking in this match.

    • January 1, 2009 9:47 pm

      Mumbai, agree that the new SA players handled the situation better than some of their predecessors but dont forget the contribution from Kallis, Boucher and Ntini

  4. January 31, 2009 12:10 am

    Welll done SA. Botha led well, though I think he’s a chucker.

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