Australia in SA

Why SA won’t lose Oz series

2014-02-11 12:00
Graeme Smith (AFP)

Cape Town – South Africa’s deeply-embedded spirit of “no surrender” ... has that perhaps been overlooked by some critics daring to suggest Australia will win the appetising three-Test series starting at Centurion on Wednesday?

Such an outcome is not at all beyond the bounds of possibility, of course: give the Baggy Greens credit, they’ve always been damned fine foes for the Proteas (and then some, in the ruthless Aussie modern heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000s).

But a very key reason why Graeme Smith’s team have hogged the ICC Test mace since mid-2012, and not been beaten in their last 14 series anywhere since 2008/09, has been their dogged determination not to succumb in often pivotal contests.

In short, they have developed a pleasing knack of either saving games where they have stared ominously down the barrel for significant periods, or actually winning them against the odds.

Another way of looking at it would be to suggest that, under Smith’s hard-jawed leadership, they are truly a “five-day side” -- capable of producing their best or most resilient cricket at the back end of matches when rival units might be finding the emotional and physical demands increasingly too burdensome.

This series, certainly at times -- and given the traditionally challenging nature of South African pitches -- may well be decided by which team slug their way out of tight corners the best.

And here, at least statistically of late, the Proteas could hold the aces against an Aussie outfit rightfully basking in the glow of a 5-0 whitewash of crisis-torn and strangely feeble England but perhaps also given a deceptive glow of imperiousness.

The Aussies were just not stretched for any notable period in that latest, turnaround Ashes series, and through no fault of their own it may just come to be a drawback of sorts in a nerve-jangling clash the challenge against the top-ranked side over the next few weeks could become.

Nor can Michael Clarke’s current team remotely, yet, be described as culturally in the habit of not losing: their results over the lengthy period in which South Africa have been unbeaten have been altogether more rollercoaster – win some, lose some.

The Proteas, between them, boast more badges of courage for Houdini feats in Tests than the Australians do, even if that is also not to suggest for one second that the visitors will be shown to be frail of spirit – teams from Down Under almost never are.

It is only a few weeks ago, in the first of two Tests against India at the Wanderers, that South Africa were given a rude shock in struggling initially for a foothold and being set 458 to win – they got to 450 for seven and came so close to achieving an “impossible” win that they were even castigated for shutting up shop; thumping the Indians in the decisive next contest rather muzzled that lobby.

Also to encouragingly recall in the Proteas’ minds is their performance on the last visit to Aussie shores, when the hosts threw the kitchen sink and monopolised each of the first two Tests which were, nevertheless both drawn – to Australian mortification, or at least irritation.

The achievements of Faf du Plessis, especially, and AB de Villiers in occupying the crease for monumental periods at Adelaide Oval, en route to a fourth-innings 248 for eight in 148 gruelling overs had a violently demoralising effect on the Aussies, who were then smashed in the Perth decider.

This is not inconsiderable psychological ammunition to boast as these combatants lock horns again, not very long after that 2012/13 battle.    

The very fact that South Africa have failed to beat the Aussies in six prior, post-isolation home series is enough reason to caution against suggesting the Proteas will be hot favourites to win this time – though there’s arguably no incentive as tasty as bucking a long-time trend, is there?

Maybe the smartest move in punditry terms is to venture a cagey 1-1 sort of outcome, which would do little to puncture South Africa’s fluffy cushion at the loftiest point on the rankings.

Poke me painfully enough in the ribs for a more definitive forecast, however, and I would have to stick with my theory that the Proteas’ claw-back qualities might be a determinant. (Let me repeat: the least likely outcome by my book is Australia winning.)

Clear-cut dominance of the tourists by Smith’s charges? Now that would be a gleaming cherry of top from a South African point of view, because you could argue that it last occurred in truest sense against Australia in a certain 1969/70 series.

Weather prospects look extraordinarily fair for SuperSport Park for the next few days ... let the games begin.

*Follow our chief writer, who will also be filing daily reports for Sport24 from Centurion, on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    ozinsa  |  cricket
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