During the drubbing of the English cricket team during the last Ashes test, I made the following observation of the Australian team:
Despite their success, this team has yet to demonstrate it can follow even a modest first innings total or bat a second innings from behind, and their bowlers have not had to bowl sixth and seventh spells. In such circumstances, Warner’s shot selection, Harris’ knee, Clarke’s back, Watson’s suitability at N0.3, and Johnson’s consistency will all be severely tested in a manner they were not in this series. It remains to be seen whether Australia’s ultra-aggressive brand of cricket will serve them as well in future as it has for this series, but I suspect it will not.
Firstly, I was partially wrong. I thought the South African batsmen would make short work of the Australian bowlers, but they were blown away by Mitchell Johnson in the first test, ably supported by the very same bowlers who had performed so well against England. Having won the toss and bizarrely choosing to bowl first, Graeme Smith gifted Australia the chance to start this series in the manner which served them so well in the last: bat first, rack up a huge score, skittle the opposition. I was also wrong in that Australia – who have a very good record in South Africa – were able to bowl out a very strong batting lineup cheaply, not once but twice, and bat against the likes of Steyn and Morkel.
However, crucially they were under no scoreboard pressure at any point, and finally – in the second test at Port Elizabeth – Australia lost the toss, were told to bowl, and subsequently were required to walk out to bat 423 runs behind after bowling 150 overs and watching two South Africans score centuries. As I expected, Australia lurched to 246 as their top order largely failed – although Warner’s capability surprised me, scoring 70. Brad Haddin, the batting hero of the Ashes, was bowled for 9. South Africa piled on another 270 and with an eye on the fifth day weather forecast declared with a lead of 448. Once again Warner lasted longer than I expected against Steyn with the new ball, although an aggressive 66 was not really what was required under the circumstances. Rogers, who I always quite liked, went on to score 107 while the rest of the team amassed a whopping 24 runs between the whole lot of them, losing 9 wickets in the final session of the day. South Africa won by 231 runs.
South Africa bounced back from their first test trouncing in a manner which England had no hope of doing in Australia following the Brisbane test. There is a reason why South Africa is the number one ranked test side in the world, and a reason why talks of this Australian team being great are premature. If Graeme Smith wins the toss at the final test, he’ll know what to do.