A changing of the guard

2008-12-26 00:00

It was a typical piece of unthinking hyperbole to describe the Perth triumph as the greatest win in the history of South African cricket, but there is no doubting the significance of the Protea’s six-wicket victory.

Apart from anything else, it marked the confirmation of the changing of the guard at the apex of world cricket. Australia can no longer claim to the dominance they have held over the world game since it was surrendered by the West Indies just over a dozen years ago.

By the time JP Duminy stroked the winning runs through cover point, the Australians looked a tired, well beaten team devoid of the skills required to defeat a younger Proteas side who seem to have both the determination and talent to reprise their performance in at least one of the remaining Tests and become the first South African team to take home a series win from Down Under.

It is true that the Aussies missed bowler Stuart Clark, who has caused the South Africans so much trouble, but previously their depth was such that the loss of a key bowler did not have such fatal consequences. It is not likely, however, that they will field again two bowlers so generously disposed to batsmen as Peter Siddle and Jason Krejza.

Shane Watson should have returned yesterday to give Ponting a fifth front-line bowler, but if he had this could have meant the end of Matthew Hayden’s career, an occasion that cannot happen soon enough for many Australians who have grown weary of the big man’s hectoring of opponents. His much proclaimed born-again Christianity did not sit well with the ugly abuse he directed at Graeme Smith during the Perth Test. Australians are prepared to cut a certain amount of slack towards their sports stars, but they do not tolerate hypocrisy. The Aussie selectors have instead opted only to change their spinner but it is a new experience for them to have selection problems.

The jubilant South Africans also have a selection problem, but of a different hue. JP Duminy made such an emphatic statement with his polished batting that leaving him out in favour of a fit-again Prince seems to be neither fair nor sensible. In the end, no dilemma existed, with Prince not deemed fit yesterday, but Neil McKenzie, who had a poor match in Perth, must be feeling the heat.

For some reason, probably due to a lack of early season runs, McKenzie has withdrawn into his shell, thus giving the impression that his is a wicket merely waiting to fall. If his career is not to receive what could be a terminal setback, he needs to get his shot-making ability into good order and the scoreboard ticking over.

The rest of the team will have left Perth in good heart. Smith made a statement with his crucial hundred that he is not just another Test captain waiting to be bullied by the Australians. Hashim Amla continues to impress, although he needs to convert good starts into big hundreds. Jacques Kallis played two imperious knocks and turned the match with his bowling. De Villiers seems to grow in stature with every match. Surely he must stay at number five, where his aggression gives momentum to an innings.

The surprise for me was the batting of Duminy. After his shaky performances against the big England fast bowlers in that disastrous one0day series, I had doubts about his ability to make runs at the highest level of the game. He was out, albeit unluckily, to a horrendous attempt to evade a Johnson bouncer in the first innings, but in the second innings he batted with style and confidence despite the pressures of the run chase. I still think he needs to show his opponents that he is not fazed by short-pitched bowling, because not all pitches will be as friendly as that at the Waca.

With five wickets in the match, Paul Harris did all that could have been asked of him. The Aussies will now be after him, which is as good a compliment as they could pay him. They recognise now that he plays a key role and will try to knock him out of the attack. This will present him with further opportunities for wickets.

The fast bowlers all got wickets, but they will be hoping for pitches that give them more sideways movement than was available at the Waca. They will know that they cannot rely on being helped out by the haul of wickets taken by Harris and Kallis in Perth. Thankfully, their batting skills were not exposed for a second time.

I felt the Aussies were guilty of a certain amount of hubris in Perth. They had a number of chances to bury the match, but spurned them in favour of big shots that came unstuck. They are not likely to make the same mistakes again, but, behind in the series, they now have to make the running. This is an unusual situation for a generation of Australian cricketers that have become accustomed to seeing their opponents wilt under pressure.

How Ponting’s men cope will be one of the fascinations of a series that got off to such a memorable start.

•Ray White is a former United Cricket Board president.

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