Cape Town – Australia will be hugely relieved that they are
almost certainly just a day away from ending their rather sorry four-match Test
saga against South Africa at the WACA.
The Proteas are closing in ruthlessly on likely victory over
the Baggy Greens in the first Test, with a win for the home nation just about
impossible – they require a further 370 runs on day five with six wickets
remaining -- and even a draw looking an extremely tall order considering the
currently dubious reputation of what’s left of their line-up in batting terms.
Smartest money suggests that the South Africans are going to
make it three wins from four Tests at the famous venue, with just one stalemate
in 2005/06, and walk away never having tasted defeat in the premier format
I say walk away, because the new 60,000-capacity Perth
Stadium, under advanced construction just across the river in Burswood, is
earmarked to start hosting all Test matches against Australia’s mainline foes –
South Africa, England and India – from 2018/19.
At least as far as the present bilateral rivalry is
concerned, the end of Tests at the WACA can hardly come quickly enough for the Aussies, so used
to ruling the roost historically over SA at most of their other grounds.
Apart from their general, often series outcome-influencing
success rate there in modern times, the Proteas have developed an extraordinary
habit of going on an absolute rampage runs-wise in their second innings, when
you would naturally expect conditions to be more challenging, at the WACA.
The trend started in that maiden experience of the ground in
2005/06, when Jacques Rudolph and Justin Kemp shut up shop heroically in a
game-saving second knock by the visitors: South Africa batted out 126 overs to
finish on a creditable 287 for five after being set an improbable 491 to win.
Then came the amazing assault for victory against the odds
in 2008/09, which simultaneously kick-started their success in winning a series
Down Under for the first time, when Graeme Smith’s charges chased down 414 for
the loss of only four wickets – the second-highest successful pursuit of a
target in Tests of all time.
They were back in prolific second-innings business in the
pivotal final Test at the WACA of 2012/13, when they amassed 569 in 111.5
overs, and a footsore Aussie side then landed way short of a juggernaut
requirement of 632 to lose by 309 runs.
The proud hallmark only continued on Sunday’s fourth day’s
play, as the Proteas stretched their overnight score of 390 for six to an
unexpectedly more swollen 540 for eight before the bell.
All of Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander – with his
second-best Test innings of 73 – and the delightfully breezy but clean-hitting
Keshav Maharaj only piled on the discomfort for the Australian attack.
So in the four Test matches between the countries at the WACA,
the Proteas have amassed a total of 1,810 second-innings runs at a cost of only
27 wickets – an average of 67.03 runs per wicket.
In short, carnage.
It is the sort of statistical mastery that would demoralise
most teams toward the business end of a five-day contest, and the present
Australians under slightly embattled Steve Smith – he has been copping it
increasingly as captain from home pundits and press, it seems – look like
suffering exactly the same fate.
The cherry on top of a stellar Sunday for the Proteas was a
quite brilliant bit of fielding by Temba Bavuma to run out that never-say-die,
in-form character David Warner – former SA coach Eric Simons in the SuperSport
studio described watching replays of the moment as “like listening to a great
piece of music again and again” – and a magical spell of pace bowling from
Kagiso Rabada that has come close to breaking the host nation’s back.
It is not over yet, and perhaps the remaining Aussie batsmen
will fight tooth and nail on Monday.
But there is also a fair chance that things could end
quickly, with the home side presumably already victims of considerable mental
and stamina-related disintegration.
This is the WACA, after all, the Proteas’ beloved home away
They will wish to vacate it in yet more glory.
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing