Shortened or not, the two-Test series moment is here and let’s enjoy it

2013-12-20 00:00

AT long last the Proteas’ cricket season has taken on some meaning with the start of the two-Test series against India. Yes, every South African cricket follower is seething that the tour has been shortened, but let’s look beyond the boardroom politics and enjoy the fact that the lads are playing proper cricket, the way the game should be played.

Playing at home adds pride and flavour to the occasion and it is a travesty that the No 1 and No 2 sides on the ICC Test rankings only have a scheduled 10 days of Test cricket to prove their standing in the game.

Nonetheless, the moment is here and let’s enjoy. The Durban weather is the biggest challenge ahead of next week’s Boxing Day Test, but for the cricket purist, any play is manna from heaven and the ideal way to add value to the festive season.

But there is more to come after this, a mouthwatering three-Test series against the men from Down Under and, although Durban does not host a Test match, interest in the series will be at a peak.

It’s plain to see the Aussies are resurgent after their clinical reclaiming of the Ashes urn on home soil, dismissing England with disdain in the first three Tests to start the celebrations with still two Tests to play.

They have come back from the dead after four years of average cricket against the old enemy, none more so than in July/August this year where England romped to a convincing 3-0 series win.

With their confidence running high, the Aussies will land on South African soil with a point to prove. Their captain Michael Clarke put some spice in the pot by saying after his side had regained the Ashes in Perth that his goal and ambition was to regain the No 1 Test ranking.

If Graeme Smith and his Proteas heard that, it’s definitely game on for the series starting at Centurion on February 12. Ahead of this current series against India, Proteas wicket-keeper batsman AB de Villiers said the Proteas wanted to keep their ranking for a while to come and become a team reminiscent of the great Australian team of the 90s that plundered all opposition in sight, including South Africa.

The Aussies, by their standards, are a lowly fifth in the rankings and although they have some work to get through to get anywhere near the top of the pile once more, a solid showing against the Proteas would be a good starting point.

And why should they not be feeling cock-a-hoop right now. There’s been talk that their moment in the sun will be short-lived as the current squad has no promising youngsters coming through and the age factor will eventually be their downfall, but such a professional outfit will no doubt be aware of the issue and address it accordingly.

Right now though, they will want to live in the moment and show the No 1 ranked side that they are here to play cricket of the highest intensity with more than a point to prove.

Mitchell Johnson has rediscovered his mojo and is firing on all cylinders as a fast bowler of purpose and menace. He has been clinical in finishing off the England batsmen in the current series and has come back into the team a changed and organised man.

Old man of the team, keeper-batsman Brad Haddin, is enjoying consistent form with the bat, while Clarke picks his moment to show his pedigree as one of Australia’s all-time greats with the bat.

Their bowling attack, led by Johnson, is backed up by Ryan Harris and the tireless Peter Siddle, with Nathan Lyon the spinning option. It’s a well-knit unit that works well together and should prosper on the South African wickets.

But, whatever they may bring, the Australians will be up against an even stronger unit, one that had the upper hand in recent meetings between the two sides.

Last time Australia were in South Africa (2011), the two-Test series was drawn 1-1, but who can forget them capitulating for 47 at Newlands after bowling South Africa out for 96 in their first innings. Many of those same Australians will be returning and cricket history rarely gets lost in the memory. It’s never allowed to and no doubt, the Newlands faithful will remind Clarke from March 1 to 5 that his previous visit was a nightmare.

Yet, the Australians rose from defeat to win the next Test in Johannesburg, chasing 310 to win by two wickets.

These performances define the good and the great teams and right now, both sides are great. The players play with pride, passion and purpose, never giving an inch in proving themselves to their country’s badge. It may not be politics on the field, but the intensity and belief in the cause they stand for is never more intense.

It will be a cracker of a series and while the matches are during the week, out of holiday time, it might be worth sacrificing some time off work to soak up a sport and contest reaching the highest level.

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