Cape Town – They’re great enough already, make no mistake, this uplifting Tuesday.
But if Faf du Plessis and his merry men win the third and final match of their victorious Test series in Australia, it will warrant placing them smack alongside probably the best South African team of all time.
Ali Bacher’s side of 1969/70, featuring such names as Barry Richards, Graeme and Peter Pollock, Eddie Barlow and Mike Procter, clean-swept Bill Lawry’s Aussies 4-0 on our shores, with every single win (Newlands, Kingsmead, Wanderers, St George’s Park respectively) achieved by a sizeable margin.
The “tightest” was 170 runs in the first encounter, indicating the extent of the series butchery. Some say beaten participant Ian Chappell, nowadays a veteran of Channel 9 commentary, is still sore about it, explaining a perceived unwillingness to offer notable subsequent generosity to South Africa behind the microphone.
Although products of an unfortunate era of racial inequality and not able to be universally loved in the bitterly divided country, that series still goes down, by most assessments, as the premier achievement from SA in Test history.
But perhaps it will only stand on its own for a few more days this month. If the magnificent, thoroughly multi-cultural class of 2016/17 can prevail in their first sampling of a pink-ball, day/night Test at Adelaide Oval between November 24 and 28, they will have earned the same whitewash of these traditional foes, albeit in a slightly shorter series, in their own heartland.
It would, I believe, be worthy of emulating those giddying days of some 46 years ago.
Regardless of what transpires in Adelaide – conditions for still-fledgling, floodlit Tests offer scope for a slightly unsatisfactory lottery – this particular team have probably already installed themselves as best of the three SA groups in a row (the others both under Graeme Smith’s guiding hand, in 2008/09 and 2012/13) to claim series triumphs in Australia.
Although the scrapping qualities of those two prior sides must never, never be marginalised, they had to dig particularly deep, often from positions of seemingly clear second-fiddle status, to secure those series.
In 2012/13, for example, the Proteas had to eke out especially defiant, rear-guard draws at Brisbane and Adelaide before reserving their best cricket, commendably, for the final encounter in Perth and a pivotal 309-run win.
Here Du Plessis and company have been massively worthy, dominating winners of both of the first two clashes, featuring a pleasingly all-embracing team ethic and broad spread of individual standout performances, by 177 runs at the WACA and now an innings and 80 runs at chilly, damp Bellerive Oval in Hobart.
This was the first time South Africa have ever beaten the Baggy Greens by an innings away, an achievement in itself; they last did it on own turf in 2008/09, albeit winning a lightweight dead-rubber encounter at Newlands after Australia had romped to early series spoils by claiming the two prior Tests in a row.
The Aussies tumbled in Tasmania, humiliatingly for them, like ninepins in the first session of day four of the weather-affected Test on Tuesday, turning their adhesive enough overnight 121 for two in their second innings to a pathetic 161 all out in the space of some 24 overs – shades of their limp first innings in more challenging conditions of 85 all out.
On this occasion it was simply the turn of a “new” South African figure in this sprightly, happy and determined touring squad, Kyle Abbott, to come rampaging to the fore as he claimed innings figures of 6/77 and 9/118 for the match.
It also said so much about the judicious balancing of experience and youth in the Proteas’ ranks that Abbott, a 29-year-old, bustling, all-heart, almost English-style seamer, shared reading of last Aussie rites in the morning session with Kagiso Rabada.
This 21-year-old emerging jewel of a fast bowler combined wondrous guile with welcome, glove-tickling spitefulness to secure figures of four for 34; Aussie tail-enders didn’t look too keen to get into line against him as the knock petered out rather haplessly.
Mind you, given the professionalism, ruthless and hunger of this particular Proteas outfit, the Baggy Greens as a whole can’t be too keen to line up for Adelaide.
They just look spooked.
“The cracks are wide open,” observed sober commentator and former Aussie international Tom Moody.
It’s what such brilliance, damn near unrelenting thus far, has done to them.
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