PORT ELIZABETH - Such has been theatre off the field in this grand series, it ultimately required extraordinary performances from South Africa’s two blockbuster cricketers AB de Villiers and Kagiso Rabada to get people talking about what was happening out in the middle again.
It really is a shame that there have been so many sideshows, no less than Rabada now being suspended for the remaining two matches of the series, for the cricket on display has been nothing less than superb.
South Africa certainly showed plenty of fight here to level a series that could easily have slipped away from them after the “embarrassment” in Durban last week.
The hosts were clinical from the outset, but no more than when it took Rabada and Co just over an hour to claim the last five Australian wickets to wrap up the visitors' second innings.
In the process, Rabada finished with 6/54 and match figures of 11/150 - the youngest bowler in the history of the game to claim four 10-wicket match hauls.
Although there were four hiccups during the successful 101-run chase, that man De Villiers was once again there to swing the momentum South Africa’s way.
He followed up his marvellous 126 in the first innings with a brisk 28 off only 26 balls. Although he may not have completed the job, leaving Theunis de Bruyn to pierce the covers for the winning runs, the damage had already been done earlier which allowed South Africa to head to Cape Town level at 1-1 after the six-wicket victory.
“That was an incredible Test match, especially after Durban where we were put under pressure for most of the Test,” Du Plessis said. “This Test was for me just a huge indication of the pride and character in our team. We changed it around. They were on top. This Test was the other way around.
“The series has been too much about other stuff ... it should be about the cricket. There is a lot of off-field stuff that is taking the shine off of some unbelievable performances from KG and AB as well, that should be headlines every day.
“There are going to be times when Australia put you under pressure. We absorbed brilliantly, Dean (Elgar) and Hashim (Amla), which set it up an AB masterclass, which is the perfect situation to come in when you have absorbed for a while, he can just come in and transfer that pressure. A very good Test match performance for us,” he added.
In contrast, Australia seemed to mirror South Africa’s performance at Kingsmead. The tourists senior players endured a dismal second Test with only David Warner’s first innings half-century being noteworthy.
Left-arm seamer Mitchell Starc, who was so devastating last week, picked up just one wicket at St George’s Park, while there is growing concern over captain Steve Smith’s form here in South Africa.
The World’s No 1 batsman suffered a double failure in Port Elizabeth, but believes the tide could turn soon.
“It’s just a part of batting, sometimes you have to work really hard for your runs and take a little bit longer, and some days you come out and things happen really quickly for you.
“It’s just a part of playing and adapting to whatever’s being thrown at you, and the surfaces make a big difference as well.”
After the exertion of back-to-back Tests, the teams will now have a few days of rest before they head into battle at Newlands on March 22. It certainly is much-needed for South Africa as they will need to go away and in all likelihood - pending the outcome of an appeal - need to find a replacement for St George’s Park Man of the Match Kagiso Rabada due to his two-match suspension imposed by the ICC.
Veteran fast bowler Dale Steyn is unlikely to come into equation as initially hoped due to the 34-year-old not having had any game time yet since injuring his foot in the first Test against India in January.
Steyn was set to make his comeback for the Titans in this weekend’s Sunfoil Series fixtures, but will now only be considered for the fourth Test at the Wanderers on March 30.
Equally, Australia are sweating on the fitness of Mitchell Marsh.
The all-rounder, who was struggling with gastroenteritis throughout this second Test, has now picked up a groin injury. This situation forced the Aussies to place Marsh in the slips during South Africa’s second innings, where he subsequently dropped Proteas opener Aiden Markram.