PERTH: Graeme Smith described the critical second day of the final Test here as one of the “highlights of South African cricket history”. It eventually led to victory in the Test and the series – the team’s second consecutive triumph Down Under after their first in 2008-09.
South Africa defeated Australia by 309 runs yesterday after setting them a mammoth 632 to win late on Sunday. The tourists, helped by three-wicket hauls from left-arm spinner Robin Peterson and pace bowler Dale Steyn, eventually bowled out Australia for 322 an hour before the close of the fourth day.
In doing so, the Proteas joined a select group of teams who have beaten Australia in consecutive series, including the dominant West Indies teams under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. The Proteas also strengthened their hold on the No 1 position in the world rankings, extending their lead to six points.
South Africa began the second day in a vulnerable position after being dismissed for 225 on the first day. Although Australia had been pegged back to 33/2 overnight in their reply, most expected them to build a handsome first-innings lead.
The opposite happened. Australia were bowled out for 163, with a superb Steyn emerging from his summer hibernation with a four-wicket haul. Then, in their second innings, South Africa reached 230/2 by the close, an overall lead of 292, which included a startling 206 runs in the final session.
Smith’s partner, Hashim Amla, who only came to the crease at the end of the first over after tea, struck an unbeaten 99 in the session in one of the most thrilling batting displays of recent times. The two men added 178 for the second wicket in just 25.3 overs at a rate of 6.98 runs to the over, a partnership that few who saw it will ever forget.
Asked if there had been a conscious plan or if it had simply happened naturally, Smith joked that he supposed there had been. “I think it was a conscious decision because neither of us told each other to stop. I remember hitting (John) Hastings for two fours, and then Hashim hit Mitchell Johnson for two fours in the next over, and I guess the momentum grew from there as we just went with the flow. We recognised the opportunity, and we were skilful enough to take it.”
Smith said with a smile that he had batted with Amla before in similar situations. “I know Hash has that ability, I could see the glint in his eye. It (the partnership) was great to be a part of.”
It was a day that served as the difference between victory and defeat in the match as the Proteas simply pulled away on day three and claimed all 10 Australian wickets yesterday to underline their superiority.
Smith said much of the satisfaction gained in winning the series was because the team hadn’t always played well, and that plans had not always worked out.
“It hasn’t been like England, when everything went according to plan. Here, we’ve had injuries (JP Duminy in Brisbane, Vernon Philander and Jacques Kallis in Adelaide), and we’ve had to scrap and adapt to changing circumstances. Our depth (talent pool) has also been tested, and still we came through.
“At times we didn’t bowl well, but we certainly hit our straps in this Test match. We were superb. We got everything together, our patterns of play were really good – everyone performed their role really well. This was the kind of performance that I’ve got used to from our guys in recent years, and it’s important not to take it for granted because it was outstanding.”
Asked how he appreciated the fact that the team had beaten Australia twice in succession on foreign soil, Smith said he was “extremely humbled” by it.
“I hope that people in Australia respect what we’ve done and the way we’ve done it. For us, it certainly means the world.
“There are people still involved in our set-up who have taken many beatings on tours of Australia. We knew what it took to come here and be victorious, but to do it twice is difficult to put into words.
“When we get on the plane tomorrow night, we’ll all have a warm feeling about being part of something really incredible and special that I can share with all the guys who have put in an immense amount of hard work behind the scenes.”
Yesterday’s win completed a run of nine unbeaten Tests played away from home in this calendar year, comprising a 1-0 series win against New Zealand, a 2-0 win against England and now a 1-0 win in Australia.
Smith said this sequence of play represented “the proudest moment in my career. What we’ve been able to achieve during this period may take people back home a long time to fully understand.
“Right now, I’m extremely proud to have been part of it. To have come here and to have beaten England and Australia away for the second time is an immense effort, and undoubtedly the proudest moment in my career.”
The Proteas are flying home tonight and are due to arrive in Johannesburg early tomorrow morning.