Test cricket is dying, they say. Then, in the space of three hours, the game dishes up a session of cricket that simply silences those cynics of the five-day format. Nine wickets for 64 runs to inflict a dramatic defeat over the Aussies… Need I say more?
Probably not, but then I can’t help myself, simply because Sunday’s final session at St George’s Park was about the most captivating cricket you are ever likely to see. At 152-1 just after tea on day four, the chances of Australia chasing down 448 runs for victory was not beyond the realms of possibility, and a series of near-misses could well have broken the South African spirit.
Yet if there is one thing this Proteas Test team has in abundance, it’s a never-say-die spirit and a mental toughness that for so long has been missing from the ODI side during ICC tournaments. What made the team’s performance in the second Test even more special was the fact that it came after an utter humiliation in the opening encounter.
In the aftermath, critics came out in full force, while Mitchell Johnson was suddenly the best thing to come out of Australia since Granny Smith apples. However, whereas Johnson relies on pure pace and brute force, Dale Steyn possesses an array of skills that have quite simply made him a legend of the game. Not only is the Phalaborwa Express able to seamlessly switch from a cool, calculated outswing bowler into an evil-eyed madman hurling down spiteful deliveries at 145kph, but he is also a master at making use of reverse swing.
On Sunday, during Steyn’s devastating spell – in which he uprooted Brad Haddin’s middle stump for the second time in succession – it was like being transported back to the glory days of reverse swing greats Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram. And no, David Warner, it wasn’t because the Proteas tampered with the ball. It was a bowling master-class that changed the course of Australia’s second innings, and set up a sensational final hour of can’t-tear-your-eyes-away cricket as the Proteas somehow found a way to bowl the visitors out just in the nick of time.
Now it’s on to Newlands in Cape Town for what should be an epic decider, and as HD Ackerman quite correctly highlighted on Sunday night, it was Australia who came into the second Test with momentum on their side, but failed to take advantage. Now that momentum is with South Africa, and it’s up to them to make use of it and prove once again just why they’re No 1.
Craig Lewis is a sports reporter for Independent newspapers in South Africa, including the Daily News in Durban. He also works as a freelance travel journalist.
IMAGE: South African Test cricket bowler Dale Steyn enjoys an Australian wicket. (AAP file Image/Dave Hunt)