Cape Town – For many years, both before and during the
Graeme Smith era, South Africa aspired – but all too often failed – to emulate
a golden-age Australian Test team.
But times have changed, with the Aussies now very much in a
rebuilding mode and the Proteas the undisputed premier power in 2012/13.
Their position is currently so secure that the ICC Test
Championship mace is guaranteed to be safe in their hands on the R4-million
“payday” cut-off of April 1: the Proteas can thus afford to lose the third and
final Test against Pakistan, starting at Centurion on Friday from their happy
position of 2-0 up.
That said, the rampant host nation will be firm favourites
to complete a clean sweep at SuperSport Park, particularly as they should get a
pitch closer to their pace-friendly desires than the one at Newlands – which I
still swear blind wasn’t so bad – and are unlikely to be especially charitable
given the brutal, uncompromising streak that now exists in the camp.
Nor will they be especially unsettled by the absence of
injured local favourite Morne Morkel from the attack for the third encounter;
Rory Kleinveldt is well-versed in the SA “system” and a decent, splice- and
glove-smacking next cab off the rank.
But there is an additional reason why they should seek to keep
every aspect of intensity ... and it has to do with the very Aussie side, so
dominant for around a decade and a half, mentioned earlier.
For if there was one thing those otherwise formidable Baggy
Greens teams -- led at various stages by Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh
and Ricky Ponting in that order – had a poor reputation for, it was in sealing dead-rubber
Unforgiving Aussie scribes, even as they issued salaams by
the bag-load most of the time, still saw fit to castigate a certain,
inexplicable sloppiness that would often creep into the mix when a Test match
(or matches) that didn’t matter as much at the back end of triumphant series
One particular period – to be fair to Border and Taylor, it
was applicable to the other two skippers – comes to mind.
Between 2001 and 2004, otherwise a particularly rewarding
spell of global plunder, the Aussies somehow managed to lose five “dead” Tests
after securing a series early.
In 2001, Australia led the five-Test Ashes series in England
by an ominous 3-0 with two to play, but ruined prospects of a whitewash by
losing the fourth at Headingley.
South Africa then felt some unusual charity in 2001/02 when,
right at the end of a summer featuring three Tests in each country and with the
Aussies a depressing 5-0 to the good, the home team salvaged a morsel of pride
in Durban when they chased down a stiff target of 335 to prevail by five
wickets via a century from Herschelle Gibbs and crucial support knocks from
Gary Kirsten and Jacques Kallis.
There were similar dead-rubber reverses for the Aussies
twice in 2003 (England in Sydney from 4-0 up, West Indies in Antigua from 3-0)
and then again in 2004 (India in Mumbai from 2-0 up).
The phenomenon later returned on the 2008/09 tour of South
Africa when, following huge wins at the Wanderer and Kingsmead against a
Proteas side criminally complacent from their preceding triumph Down Under, the
home team earned a consolation, innings win at Newlands to cut the loss to 2-1.
So that dead-rubber syndrome, a source of some annoyance to
perfectionist Australian enthusiasts, was one slight stain on a more broadly
brilliant list of conquests by their teams of that stellar period.
It also gave embittered supporters of rival teams at least
some minor cause for an occasional snigger, and seemed so ... well,
If GC Smith’s class of 2012/13 can begin to forge a
reputation for showing no mercy in remaining contests following the assurance
of series supremacy, it will only aid their own desire to ensure a replacement legacy
of long-term greatness.
Will they put a cannon or a pea-shooter into Pakistan at
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