Young stars come of age

2008-12-21 00:00

South Africa have secured the greatest victory in their history. Nothing in their cricketing experience can compare with the sight of AB Villiers and JP Duminy, an Afrikaner educated at Affies and a coloured boy raised in the Western Cape, calmly taking their country towards an astonishing triumph.

It was a partnership forged in fire, replete with symbolism, notable for its determination and unwavering in its intent. Completing the work so admirably begun by Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis, the youthful fourth wicket pair slowly crushed a profligate home side.

Coming together at 303 for four after Kallis had been removed, a mighty oak whose fall once shook the entire neighbourhood, the youngsters collected singles cleverly, dispatched the loose delivery fearlessly and generally showed an increasingly anxious opponent that the task was within their capabilities.

It has been a long time since Australia was so easily thwarted on a fifth day track anywhere, let alone in Perth. Admittedly, pitches do not deteriorate as rapidly these days and the country’s most accurate paceman (Stuart Clark) was missing but these are distractions. Amidst all the tensions of a Test match, the first of the series, Australia ought to be able to defend 414, yet they failed miserably.

De Villiers was immense. Once cast as a tearaway, he batted so judiciously that he might have been bewigged. Already he had excelled in the slips and contributed handily in the first innings.

Now he took responsibility for the fate of the match, staying at the crease till the deed was done and he had cast himself in stone. Taking his cue from Kallis, himself a revitalised figure, the 24 year old moved into line with every delivery and tucked away singles to square leg with a shrewd flick of the wrist, or else pushed the ball square of the wicket and ambled a single. Australia’s inability to stem the flow of short singles meant they could not squeeze the life from the South African innings.

In hindsight the last few overs on that fourth evening (Saturday) were critical. At a time when most teams shut up the shop Kallis and De Villiers plundered 27 runs in 18 deliveries. Clearly a more enterprising spirit had taken hold, a mood evident throughout a daunting chase.

Duminy was superb. As he walked to the crease, he must have had much on his mind. Replacing a proven batsman (Ashwell Prince), he had come into the team at the last minute, besides which he was playing his first Test.

If Duminy was nervous, he did not show it. Instead he concentrated on serving his side, inspired by the feats of Ashwell Prince and Hashim Amla, two worthy members of an especially cosmopolitan batting order. Throughout he retained his composure, dropping spinning deliveries at his toes with soft hands and not letting anything upset him. Once he had settled he played several serene drives and latterly dared to step down the pitch to lift the spinner and to open the face of his bat to glide between the slips. In all the circumstances it was a remarkable performance.

As far as the Australians were concerned the result was calamitous. Mitchell Johnson won them the match and the rest contrived to throw it away. Not that all were equally to blame, and Brad Haddin and Brett Lee deserve commendation. Even so, it was a second rate performance. Fingers will be pointed at an attack containing one dangerman, but the batsmen were just as culpable.

The Australians batted horribly and threw wickets away recklessly, none more so than Andrew Symonds, in whom a beleagured captain has put so much trust. Symonds’ bowling was hardly used, so he is playing as a specialist batsman.

It was a great victory for Smith and his fellows and a significant setback for the hosts.

Andrew Hilditch and his panel know that change is required.

South Africa have no need to change its line up, but must tighten a few nuts and bolts.

Neil Mckenzie was out of sorts, the pace bowling was patchy and the tail did not wag. But the abiding memory of the match was De Villiers and Duminy embracing at the end.

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