Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – One-nil up in a uniquely short Test
series against old foes, South Africa have a golden opportunity now to earn
that elusive first home triumph over Australia since their return from
isolation at the Wanderers next week.
The second and last Test begins on Thursday
at the Bullring, and as much as a wounded animal – in this case the Baggy
Greens – can be a dangerous prospect, the quality of the Proteas’ great
jailbreak at Newlands here tends to suggest the host nation should be at least be
capable of not losing in Johannesburg.
From a situation where an ill-prepared side
were seemingly on the ropes and in danger of following on in the first Test,
the Proteas suddenly hold the whip hand and are just as likely as the humbled
Aussies to only improve on the Highveld.
Although the recent heat-wave up north could
mean a pitch that shows signs of deterioration as the Test grinds on, it would
seem to make sense for the host nation to anticipate a relative batting belter
at the Wanderers, with little in the way of exaggerated seam movement as
evidenced at a damper Newlands for good portions of the first match.
All that stands in the way of a successful series
close-out, you would think, is the South Africans’ strangely rocky record against
Australia at the ground in the post-unity period.
South African last beat Australia in a Test
series in this country in 1969/70, the season of Ali Bacher’s immortals who
earned a 4-0 clean sweep, but have not been able to prevail in five series
attempts in the more modern era.
And the Proteas’ record against the Aussies
at the Wanderers is especially bad, losing four on the trot there after a 1994
victory by 197 runs – the quartet of subsequent losses includes unpalatably
heavy ones in 1997 by an innings and 196 runs and an innings and 360 runs in
But they must have scored some major
psychological points at Newlands, and victorious captain Graeme Smith is well
aware that the schizophrenic nature of the first Test indicated that his team
are yet to fully hit their straps after an early season too dominated by limited-overs
“We can improve a lot,” he said after
helping lead the charge to Friday’s giddy win with his unbeaten 101.
“We bowled a lot better in the second
innings than the first, where we were neither here nor there in terms of our
lengths. (Michael) Clarke played really well for Australia but we also let him
go a bit.
“Hopefully the graph now will only grow for
The most anonymous specialist bowling
role-player in the first Test for the Proteas turned out to be debutant
leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who bowled only 10 reasonably humdrum overs in the
Aussie first innings and then wasn’t even required for the amazingly short
But as Smith pointed out: “It’s very
difficult on a wicket like that for somebody like Imran, who is an attacking
“He will grow in confidence and get to
understand things like his first-innings role and how the strip is playing.
“There wasn’t a lot on offer for him. He’ll
have learnt a lot and will still play a big role for us ahead.”
There will be some discussion, no doubt,
about trying to fit in Lonwabo Tsotsobe to the Wanderers mix, given his ability
to generate uncomfortable bounce, but it is also hard to see coach Gary Kirsten
and company tampering too much with a team that has just thumped Australia by
eight wickets, whatever the bizarre circumstances of the game ...