Proteas in Australia

Time for Proteas’ true colours

2012-11-19 15:31
Graeme Smith (Gallo)
Cape Town – It may seem a bizarre thing to say considering that they won the last series in Australia, but it has been a formidably long time since South Africa actually bossed a Test match Down Under in the truest sense of the expression.

The last time this occurred, arguably, was as long ago as 1963/64 ... and perhaps the Proteas’ class of 2012/13 can take some heart from the fact that Adelaide Oval, scene of the second Test in the current series from Thursday, was the venue for it all those decades back.

That was the fourth Test of a five-match series, eventually shared 1-1, and there could be no doubting the merits of the triumph by Trevor Goddard’s team by 10 wickets in the scenic state capital of South Australia.

After the Aussies had totalled 345 in their first innings, the tourists replied with a formidable 595, Eddie Barlow’s 201 and Graeme Pollock’s 175 – famous third-wicket alliance 341 -- the key features.

The footsore Australians were then dismissed for 331 the second time around and South Africa knocked off the undemanding 82 runs for victory without surrendering a wicket.

Since then, South Africa have only won a further three Tests in that country in 17 attempts, including the drawn first tussle of the present series in Brisbane.

All of that trio of victories, too, were characterised by old-fashioned guts and/or rearguard actions, rather than as a result of consistent match domination.

Think about it: in 1993/94 the South Africans secured their first post-isolation victory hugely against the odds in a remarkable second Test at Sydney, where Fanie de Villiers’s six for 43 skittled the unsuspecting Aussies for 111 in pursuit of just 117 to win.

Even in the triumphant series of 2008/09, and without wishing to pour cold water on the glowing maiden achievement, the Proteas had had their backs to the wall at different stages in the respective wins at Perth and Melbourne.

The result at the WACA was achieved with a record-breaking fourth-innings chase of 414 after the Baggy Greens had comfortably held the first-innings aces, and at the MCG the South Africans had also been tottering at 184 for seven in their first dig in reply to Australia’s 394.

But a fairytale ninth-wicket partnership of 180 between JP Duminy and Dale Steyn was particularly responsible for a claw-back that turned the match on its head – the Proteas eventually posted a hitherto highly unlikely 459.

So there is certainly a case for saying that a muscular, dominant performance mostly from start to finish continues to elude the modern South African side in Australia, and would be extremely welcome.

It is worth keeping in mind that when England retained the Ashes in 2010/11 away from home, their comprehensive 3-1 series triumph was marked by all three victories being achieved by margins of at least an innings – a real case of Australians getting a rare, collective bloody nose on their own terrain.

So is it too much to ask the top-ranked Proteas – themselves having commendably knocked over England 2-0 away just a few weeks back – to set right a long-time shortcoming Down Under in either (or ideally even both) of the last two Tests on this visit?

The additional incentive for the tourists to show their maximum mettle is that many Australians, who have not had too much to crow about in recent times, are taking solace from what they perceive to have been a dominant Baggy Greens performance at the Gabba, despite the weather-affected stalemate.

There can be little doubt that a few South African egos were bruised in the first Test, but at the same time Proteas supporters who are confident and comfortable about the “Gary Kirsten effect” on the Test squad in his first year in charge as coach will also have been prepared to forgive the team for largely under-delivering, first up, in Brisbane.

Player for player, the South African team still looks better balanced – particularly as reports continue to suggest all-rounder Shane Watson is not ready to bowl for Australia -- and contains more players in or around the prime of their efficiencies and likely to be potential match-winners.

The Proteas have shown in recent years (when their away record has actually been inexplicably better so often than their home one in Tests) that they can play with a swagger on most corners of the planet.

Australia, for whatever reason, has been an exception ... and yes, even despite that goose-pimply 2-1 outcome almost four years ago.

Deep down, Graeme Smith and his troops probably know that.

Adelaide Oval, and a concerted bounce-back performance, seems a golden chance to set it emphatically right.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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