JOHANNESBURG – ‘To win this series, with all the noise going on, was quite rewarding,’ Ottis Gibson said in the most understated manner.
There was a lot of noise. Not so much in this final Test, where a distracted Australian team was obliterated on the last day in a whirlwind, produced by the relentless accuracy and skill of Vernon Philander.
A bust up on a stairwell at Kingsmead laid the foundation for the most acrimonious set of cricket matches that South Africa has ever hosted. There was lot of sledging in Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Shoulders were brushed, bans and demerit points were handed out, appeals were heard and then sandpaper got thrown into the mix.
The final Test, an almost disappointed Dean Elgar reflected on Monday, was mute. Australia, without its two best batsmen, with a coach who had announced his resignation and the most threatening fast bowler out injured (apparently), were a chastened group at the ‘Bullring.’
Though Philander’s efforts yesterday were thunderous, the ending of a series with so much controversy was subdued.
The hosts dominated the final game from the outset, the tone set by a stunning century from Aiden Markram, continued by a gutsy unbeaten 95 by Temba Bavuma, the Australians were hammered when they batted the first time, embarrassed when they went in for their second dig. In between there was a return to form for the SA captain and more obduracy from Elgar.
South Africa made history.
The Australian team heads home for an uncertain future. The bright young captain Steve Smith, banned and not to be considered captain for two years. Appeals await him and David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
The South African team, after series wins against the no.1 Test side and now a more historic rival, has on the face of it a bright future. Markram, finished as the series’ leading run-scorer with 480 runs and Rabada as top wicket-taker with 23 - that’s the next decade of the Proteas in good hands then.
Keshav Maharaj, Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma and Lungi Ngidi all contributed, significantly, at different stages of the series. Du Plessis said that, with an eye on the future, was important.
And the senior players stepped to the fore when required. AB de Villiers was superb in PE at a key point in the series, Elgar stunted Mitchell Starc in that match too along with Hashim Amla, another vital period of the series.
“We didn’t play Starc well in Durban,” said Gibson. “We spoke about how we would play the spinner (Nathan Lyon), he bowls a lot of oversand I feel we played him very well.
When it came to Starc, he’s a champion bowler but we didn’t play him well, (the batsmen) went a bit more to off-stump, and rather than hit him square we started to go at the ballhe bowled very well in PE but didn’t get the wickets he got in Durban. The ball still reverse swung, but we played him a whole lot better than in Durban and we just got going from there.”
South Africa has won eight out of 10 Tests this summer.
It is very unfair on the Proteas that this series will be remembered for the drama that happened off the field for they played and fought - after being 0-1 down - with great passion and street smarts. It has, as Gibson remarked, been a rewarding conclusion.