Our prediction record isn’t exactly brilliant (it’s up there with Dean Elgar’s international career) so we’ll indulge ourselves with this direct quote from our match preview:
“South Africa to win in four days; Australia to be undone by the fact that when Michael Clarke doesn’t make a double hundred they’re really not that good.”
Michael Clarke didn’t make a double hundred and Australia really weren’t that good in this game, taking an almighty beating from a South African side that finally played like a number one side (or at least one that isn’t busy trying to chuck that ranking away). The second day in particular was a complete disaster for the hosts, their top order being blown away yet again before their novice bowling attack disappeared to all parts. From there there was simply no way back, despite Channel Nine’s hilariously misguided belief that a final innings score of 600 or more might be genuinely gettable.
Australia’s pursuit of the number one spot says more about some of the other contenders than their own strengths. The top order batting remains a shambles, utterly reliant on the two Michaels to bail them out of trouble. Add that to them picking their fifth to seventh choice pace bowlers for such a key match and suddenly the garden doesn’t look quite so rosy.
This match will probably be most remembered for Ricky Ponting’s final appearance. He leaves the side with as weak a top order as it can have had for a generation: David Warner again failed to deliver, Ed Cowan just doesn’t appear to have many Test hundreds in him and Shane Watson’s batting average is more in line with Graeme Hick than his predecessor in the number three spot. Ponting’s retirement may be the precursor to a wholesale change of strategy, if not personnel.
The only pluses from this match came in the form of an entertaining pair of cameos with the bat – Matt Wade in the first innings and Mitchell Starc in the second. Beyond that there was very little. Mitchell Johnson bowled as he always tends to, good in patches (in particular when roughing up the hapless Elgar) but often wayward. Mitchell Starc bowled two decent spells, on the first morning and third evening, with a heap of dross inbetween, while John Hastings struggled to make any impact.
Still, the catching was very good, particularly Johnson’s two caught and bowleds and Nathan Lyon’s Catch Of The Century™. The fact that South Africa scored several hundred runs between each catch rather put a dampener on things though.
This match was really all about South Africa, who finally gave the sort of performance that they’re always capable of, but don’t seem to produce quite as often as they should. Hashim Amla’s second innings knock was utterly sublime, a masterpiece of touch and timing while AB de Villiers’ was almost as good, albeit rather more brutal. The first innings 78* from Faf du Plessis shouldn’t be forgotten, holding the side together after a wobble around lunch time. A joke about Samit Patel should probably go here.
Perhaps the biggest plus was the bowling attack. For the first time in the series they all clicked at once; Steyn bowled faster than at any point previously while Morkel was controlled in a way that he all too often isn’t. Add in some effective left arm filth from Robin Peterson and suddenly South Africa had a genuinely rounded bowling attack that preyed on the many weaknesses of the Australian batting lineup. Basically, as soon as they got rid of Imran Tahir they became good.
There are still a few questions over the side. Dean Elgar couldn’t hit the ball off the square during his debut ODI series in England; here he looked worse. Meanwhile Faf du Plessis looks like a genuine Test batsman, albeit one shunted down to number seven as punishment for badmouthing Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Common sense should see the latter move up the order at the expense of the former. Picking a wicketkeeper probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Australia have barely a week off before they start another three Test series, taking on the distinctly less imposing Sri Lanka. It should be a relatively straightforward affair, with Sri Lanka’s bowling attack almost entirely unsuited to Australian conditions. Expect to see the Australian top order tucking in, with the current cracks well and truly papered over by David Warner slapdashing his way to 120 from 70 balls.
For South Africa the reward for their excellent performance is an extra day of hanging around in Perth – we recommend the Museum & Fire Safety Education Centre – before heading back to take on Tim Southee in three T20s, two Tests and three ODIs. It’s fair to say that we don’t think it’ll present a significant challenge.