04 March 2014

3rd Test, South Africa versus Australia, day 4

Australian 1st innings: 7/494 from 127.4 overs
Michael Clarke 161*, David Warner 135, Steven Smith 84, Shane Watson 40
JP Duminy 4-73

South African 1st innings:
287 all out from 82.5 overs
Faf du Plessis 67, Alviro Petersen 53
Mitchell Johnson 4-42, Ryan Harris 3-63, James Pattinson 2-77

Australian 2nd innings:
5/303 dec.David Warner 145, Steven Smith 36*
Kyle Abbott 3-61

South African 2nd innings:
4/71 chasing 511 runs for victory after 41.0 overs
Hashim Amla 40
Mitchell Johnson 2-31, Ryan Harris 1-10

Graeme Smith has announced his retirement. His stats alone are a fine testament to his skill as a batsman and he's been the skipper of his team for a very long time, a world record in fact. Respect. He's helped his team to the number 1 spot in the Test rankings and with that I think it's only fair to wish him all the best in his future ventures playing cricket in the UK and that he leaves behind a decent legacy.

My personal take on Smith is that he was given a great deal of responsibility very young and there was a certain arrogance, sorry, a definite arrogance which seemed to come through in his attitude as a result of this. Overcompensating? Quite likely, as pointed out by Shane Warne years ago. Smith had a tough time against us in this regard.

In the media spotlight he always came across as being rather robotic and quite bland in his personality, which from observing seems to be where, despite his brilliant batting records, he never seemed to get the credibility and immense respect from the South African supporters. The number of times it seemed the media were out to get him is simply numerous, especially with the lack of silverware the team managed to grab when taking on the worlds best. The pressure mounted and the choke tag grew.
I found Smith to be a bit of an excuse maker too often, struggling to just admit poor performances or being outplayed. Again, this probably goes back to the burden of leadership at a young age post the Hansie Cronje saga. I wasn't ever a great admirer, but it can't have been easy for the bloke and he did give it his best shot. 

This has been one mammoth performance from our boys. After being smashed in our second dig at St. Georges Park on the back of Dale Steyn's reverse-swing frenzy, many expected our boys to bow down and not fight, or just have the Proteas momentum wash over us, given Newland's is a great hunting ground for them. Instead we go into the final day of this epic clash between these two fine sides leading by 440 runs with 6 wickets standing in our way of victory.

AB de Villiers is still there and remains the key wicket, assuming our boys can't knock over his partners. It will take a massive effort for them to not lose this. The South African mentality will be to play for the draw and not likely the win, so expect a strong defensive fort to break down.

Sure, Adelaide 2012 will be spoken of but we had a bowling attack down one man and low on energy on a very, very hot Adelaide day. It was still a fantastic defiance from Faf du Plessis (and de Villiers played a role in that), but the circumstances are completely different this time around in terms of the pitch, weather conditions, and that we have a much better bowling attack with far greater versatility on offer. South Africa have their work cut out for them.

Two key wickets stand out, and that is the two mentioned above, AB and Faf.

However, the challenge awaits our boys tomorrow. From the 1st Ashes Test at the Gabba, a 5-0 win, and now a chance to beat South Africa 2-1, this is the opportunity, this is the day, this is the moment that is ours to take. Our players can then rest up with some incredible cricket behind them, but it's one day to go against a defiant team.

Michael Clarke would have been under immense pressure with the declaration decision. Some may feel he dragged it on, but he wouldn't have done this had he not believed in his bowlers and this would have been a team decision. This is about winning the series after all and a burden not placed upon one mans shoulders.

Was it left too late? Time will tell but with 4 wickets claimed in 41.0 overs, I'd hardly say it was too late. The bowlers backed his decision, gave it their very best and got out there with self-belief instilled in them from the leader. The decision has been made, time to fight for those last 6 wickets.

Personally, we probably could have had a lead of 400 and gunned it, but given South Africa's ability in recent times to take on those targets with a track that could have held up well for their top order (who've now been dismantled) it was a decision Clarke would have considered, hence pushing for over 500 runs.

David Warner was the man of the day though, despite yet another scintillating bowling performance from Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson with the new ball. Onto that in a moment.

David Warner had the best platform. He could play aggressively, play with a definite goal in mind, and as a result he scored 145 runs. This series he has scores of 12, 115, 70, 66, 135, and 145.

That's 543 runs at 90.50 from 6 innings, with 3 centuries and 2 half-centuries. Matthew Hayden's shadow.

That's a phenomenal effort. Just look at those stats, but better yet, I hope you've actually watched his batting. He's been brutal. Yes, he's had luck, but that's not his problem, it's South Africa's problem their fielding standards were lowered and they've paid a hefty fine. Over and above that, David Warner came under fire before this Test match for his public statements which I backed him on, mostly because I can't stand robotic cricketers. He has followed up with 2 centuries. Doesn't get bolder.

His effort alone was enough to steer us into a strong position, but contributions from Steven Smith and Alex Doolan ensured we made it a dominant position.

The Proteas were hit hard without Dale Steyn, similar to our issues in 2011 and 2012 with numerous bowling issues, but it has perhaps been good for them going forward to see the effectiveness of their bowlers without the Phalaborwa Express in the team.

With Graeme Smith now retired as well, and Jacques Kallis only played limited overs international cricketer (and Mark Boucher gone too) they have some serious gaps to fill, and their bowling looks like the area to be effected when Dale Steyn is not around. I shared my view on Morne Morkel on day 2, but whether or not Steyn was there or not, David Warner was explosive and was in a demolition mood that few bowlers could have stopped.

It's now all about our bowlers. The batsmen have completed their tour, their fielding hands now become their focus, our bowlers have the task set. Our batsmen have given them more than enough to work with and limited their pressure with consistent 1st and 2nd innings performances, something which has been inconsistent, as a contradiction of sorts.

Ryan Harris is set to go under the knife after this series for a knee-operation. Reality is, I am treating this Test as if it may be the last time I witness him playing for the Baggy Greens. Knee-ops carry intense rehabilitation and who knows when he may return to cricket, and how the replacement bowlers will stack up. He's one of my favourite bowlers to watch and to see him so wired and strong this Test to give his best, I am just embracing it. He's a champ and keeps on going, despite the physical pain he must be suffering.

Before this Test he admitted to feeling low on confidence, but like David Warner he has delivered on the field to back his public opinion. To celebrate, he reached 100 Test wickets. He deserves it and so much more.

Well done Ryano, proud of you!

Mighty Mitch, well, I almost feel I need to be copying and pasting at the moment. Here it is in short.

This series (forget the Ashes) 21 wickets at 15.28 with 2 5-fers and a 10 wicket haul in a Test.

He has broken Graeme Smith's hand twice and really troubled the soon to be retired South African skipper. He ended his final Test innings with a fast and furious short pitched delivery, snatched by Alex Doolan at short leg.

He then bowled Dean Elgar with what is the ball of the series for me, competing with Ryan Harris' delivery to remove Hashim Amla on day 3. Similar deliveries, fast and a thrill to watch and hear the stump mics pick up the timber falling over.

James Pattinson ended the day for us on the perfect note, as he trapped Hashim Amla LBW. It was the big fish to go to stumps and to have 4 wickets down was great. To see our young gun pick up a vital wicket was even better and despite Amla's review he was foxed by the inward movement of the track from Jamo.

One day to go, 6 wickets to get. Come on the Baggy Greens, so close!  

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