DURBAN - Lest we forget, there was still cricket on day five in Durban. Amidst the off-field drama from the day before, there was still the matter of the final rites to be played out for the first Test at Kingsmead.
Australia needed just 22 balls to wrap up the final wicket needed toseal a comprehensive, 118-run win, and take a 1-0 lead in a four-Test series that is being squeezed into little more than a month.
South Africa will have very little time to absorb the lessons heeded from the defeat, as the second Test in Port Elizabeth starts on Friday. What is clear though, is that they are up against a very good Aussie side, and they will need to dust themselves off and be up for the next scrap.
“I don’t think the team needs more motivation to beat Australia. It is a nice opportunity for us to learn from the mistakes that we made, and also stand up and compete against Australia,” South African skipper Faf du Plessis said, looking ahead to the next assignment.
Du Plessis acknowledged that Australia, led by Mitchell Starc, hadtaken advantage of conditions better than the home side.
“There was a real difference in skill with the reverse-swing. Every time KG (Kagiso Rabada) had the ball in his hand, it looked like he could take a wicket, and the same goes for Mitchell Starc,” Du Plessis reiterated.
"The guys need to find a way to get rid of the tail quicker. We mentioned it before the series, and I think a crucial part of the series will be the run scored between number 8 and 11."
Of course, these things are easier than done.
“It is difficult for the tail, because we know that Starc reverse swings the ball at pace. The only weapon we have in that sense is Kagiso,” he said of countering measures for Starc’s ability to run through a tail.
But, Du Plessis admitted that the bulk of the runs needed to come from a top-order that largely misfired at Kingsmead.
“We know, as a top seven, that the responsibility (to score runs) lies on us, because for us it is a bit easier. When Kagiso gets a sniff, he can run through them as well,” Du Plessis said hopefully.
On the flip side, Australia were very pleased with their work in the opening Test of a massive series.
“I think we did a lot of good things in this Test match. Obviously no one went on and got a hundred, which was a bit disappointing, but Mitch Marsh probably deserved a hundred in the first innings. I thought he played exceptionally well,” Steve Smith said of his side’s exertions.
Smith concurred with Du Plessis – on the influence of the lower-order, at least – saying that his side’s wagging of the tail was key to the victory.
“Our tail batted really well…I think they were the difference. They added 130 in the first innings, I think.”
Without those runs, South Africa may well have been a lot closer, even with their first innings slump. Reverse-swing played a huge role in the match, and a dry surface in Port Elizabeth will also encourage the art in the second Test.
South Africa need to find a way to combat it, and fast. Australia, with their noses in front, will know that a positive outcome in the windy city will go a long way to preserving their proud record in South Africa.
The second Test of the series starts on Friday.