Port Elizabeth - On Sunday, South Africa and Dale Steyn got up off the canvas and showed emphatically why they are the world’s No1-ranked Test team and fast bowler respectively.
This Australia team under Michael Clarke are an overly confident bunch. They enjoy talking up their players and fancy their chances of achieving the near impossible. At tea time on a rivetting fourth day of the second Test here, there would no doubt have been some in the dressing room thinking that the 448-run target set by South Africa was within their reach.
But, like their over-hyped belief that Mitchell Johnson is the premier fast bowler in the world that was simply head in the clouds stuff. The ICC rankings provide the official proof, his statistics over a 70-Test career are further evidence, and on Sunday Steyn rammed it down Aussie throats that he is ranked among the cricketing legends.
Australia lost their last nine wickets for just 90 runs in an elongated final session, and that was mostly due to the brilliance of Steyn. This St George’s Park pitch was not last week’s Centurion fireburner where simply letting the ball go as fast as you possibly could would yield results.
Skill was required here and Steyn possesses it in abundance. The way he made the ball reverse brought back memories of great Pakistanis like Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram in their prime. The Australian batsmen simply had no answer to Steyn reverse-swinging the ball at high pace, with Clarke edging to Faf du Plessis at second slip and Steve Smith trapped lbw off consecutive balls.
The hat-trick did not materialise for Steyn, but his tail was up and he had the remainder of the Aussie batsmen firmly in his sights. Brad Haddin had his middle stump rooted shortly afterwards and the local crowd went berserk. But not actually as crazy as the destroyer-in-chief himself whose wild celebrations showed how much this Test meant to him.
When he came back to send Ryan Harris back to the pavilion in a manic extra 30 minutes close to the end of play, he had completed the job of hauling his team back into this series.
“South Africa’s bowlers deserve a lot of credit for that display,” Clarke said after the crushing defeat. “It was a class spell of reverse-swing bowling from all three South Africa bowlers , especially Dale Steyn. You saw a class bowler execute his skills today at 140-145km/h and he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Skipper Graeme Smith echoed his counterpart’s view on the South African talisman. “It was a tough week in the build-up to this Test and I don’t think many teams would have responded after a defeat like we had suffered (at Centurion). To take nine wickets in a session is special,” Smith said.
“Dale goes from angry to very angry when he is on the field. But there is always high expectation on him to take five wickets in an innings, and when he doesn’t, there’s a lot of talk.”
Only the obdurate Chris Rodgers stood his ground for the Australians, and that was due to South Africa’s hesitant use of the umpire decision review system. His valiant century kept South Africa in the field for a while longer, much like Hashim Amla had subdued the visitors earlier in the day to complete his 21st Test century before Smith’s timely declaration.
Much had been made about South Africa’s lack of a specialist spinner, but Man of the Match JP Duminy showed he can perform that role admirably.
“It was true drama. That is why Test cricket so special,” Smith signed off a happy captain, knowing that the series decider is set for the Proteas’ Newlands fortress.
Second Test, Day 4
South Africa: 423, 270/5 dec (Amla 127 not out)
Australia: 246 and 216 (Rodgers 107, Steyn 4/55)
South Africa win by 231 runs to level the series 1-1