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Conclusions from Aus-SA Test series 2008-09: Part I
by Chetan Narula
Jan 10, 2009
Something has happened that hadn't transpired in a long, long time. In fact, the elder cricket fans all round the world had forgotten what it felt like for such a thing to happen. The relatively younger ones have probably never really witnessed anything akin to this. One is not talking about a holocaust but just the little matter of Australia losing their first home Test series in almost sixteen years. Well, many ought to believe that is more than a mild tremor for the world of cricket, and indeed such a jolt surely throws up a few pointers!

First and foremost, the cricket world order has changed. Lest there be any wrong notions, its state is not in flux anymore. That was precisely the case in 2008 but everybody woke upto it quite late, after the loss to India probably. But the real stagnation had begun in Sydney last year when the Aussies were too engrossed with winning and suddenly stepped over the line to being bigger than the game. Look what happened after that: a loss in Perth and a draw in Adelaide followed by the CB Series loss. They only just won the Test series because India were pathetic in the first test at MCG. It seems the game of cricket, in a bid to set its house in order, suddenly turned on its own champions, whose behaviour was a shade on the honour that comes with the tag!

And although the ICC Test Rankings may not reflect the change just as yet, they will soon enough, for it is just a matter of time that South Africa repeats the series win on their home soil in two months time. It will take a determined effort on Australia's part to upstage this Protean team that has steadily reached the peak; climbing with great effort and planning over the last couple of seasons and they will have to do it the same hard way, a long arduous task and not a parachute drop to the peak.

South Africa today are the epitome of what a game's world champions should be like. They are aggressive and strong, believe in their talent pool and are also mindful of their weaknesses. But at the same time, they are not afraid to explore the limits of their abilities, always manned by a clever coach and a great captain. And they are not easily stirred and have so far been respectful of their oppositions, be it playing India or Bangladesh. It is almost as if what the Australians should have been like in an ideal cricketing world!

Now we know the stalwarts from South Africa in and out for fans all over the world have adulated the likes of Kallis, Boucher, Ntini and others time and again. In their shadow the likes of Mornie Morkel, Paul Harris, Neil McKenzie, Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers have really risen to the occasion over the course of the last ten Test series whence South Africa has not known defeat. And although it was very much the same team effort Down Under as well, there are those who rose above themselves and shined through the most.

For what a splendid debut it has been for Jean Paul Duminy in international cricket. A half century on debut has been witnessed many times before but it was the sanity with which he drove South Africa home in a mammoth run chase, was what was astonishing. Just imagine the pressure cooker scenario. It is believed that he was throwing up right before he went in that day but once on the turf, he was a changed man. And if that is not sufficient to appease the most ardent critics, then his maiden ton in the next match obviously justifies why he is in the national colours at such a tender age. If it was his calmness in Perth, then at Melbourne, it was his maturity that won him this adulation. He just knew when to play his shots, when to rotate the strike, knew that he had to trust in Steyn and Ntini and thus was able to convert a probable innings defeat to a launch pad for a fantastic series win. Test debuts don't get better than this!

One had compared Dale Steyn to the 'White Lightning' in a previous piece, but at that time the full potential of this stupendous fast bowler was yet to be unleashed. Sure, he was making fast strides on the international arena, with match winning performances against India and England, but his one true assessment was against Australia, especially in Australia! And boy, oh boy, how well did he tide over them, single handedly blowing the opposition away on more than one occasion. For now, the Donald-legacy seems fulfilled, with him swinging that ball at a lightening quick pace. What's more, this Allan Donald can bat a bit as well!

Yes, this visiting team was good but it didn't hold true the age old adage that a captain is as good as his team. In fact, what this one man did was turn that axiom on its head and made his team look every inch as good as he is. Graeme Smith opens the batting for his team and there is no better way to lead from the front than getting almost half his team's runs. And that has now been the trend for the past fifteen months or so, be it in any part of the world. So much so, South Africa's climb to the top is very well entwined with his stupendous form. His importance can be told from the fact that he has been neglecting a tennis elbow injury for the last eight months and that goes to show that he is well on his was to become the next Hansie Cronje, and one means that in the best of ways!

He has finally done what a once upon a time great South African captain couldn’t do and that is to get the better of the Aussies. He understood when they lost to Australia the last time round that there was a need for a change in mentality and it had to begin with him. And one could witness the change as he set foot Down Under this time, not opening his mouth unnecessarily. Instead he got the job done on the field and left his stamp on the series in what was the last act in Sydney. Batting without a good arm, trying to save the match, this man is indeed the bravest cricketer alive!

(To be concluded)
 
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