JOHANNESBURG – On December 20, 2008, I found myself having a cold one in a bar near the Waca Cricket Ground in Perth wondering what tomorrow would bring.
It was late. The fourth day’s play of the first Test between Australia and South Africa had been delayed a few times by rain, so play had dragged on well passed 7pm. Graeme Smith had made a hundred, another one, in what was a massive year for the South African captain.
He had in his words, given the side some “momentum” in their (at that stage) still very unlikely pursuit of 414 to win the first Test. At 227/3 at the end of day 4, South Africa were 187 runs short of the target.
Looking back on the day, it was the last half an hour which had stuck with me and a couple of others who were looking back. Jacques Kallis had launched a very calculated and un-Kallis like assault on Peter Siddle and Jason Krejza - an Aussie off-spinner, who’s never played another Test after Perth - that took the required number of runs below 200. It felt significant to me and the handful of South Africans who were at the bar with some Australian counterparts.
In the period after isolation South Africa had won just one Test in Australia and that had been 15 years earlier. 414? Only the West Indies had successfully chased a bigger target.
But as Smith pointed out that fourth evening, that year South Africa had performed some incredible feats in the Test arena. They drew a series in India (which they should have won), saved a Test at Lord’s and went on to win a Test series in England for the first time in 45 years - Smith’s fourth innings hundred at Edgbaston is arguably the greatest innings by a South African player.
Watch: Graeme Smith hundred - AUS v SA (Perth)
But this was Australia, who hadn’t lost a home series in 16 years and that defeat was to a team containing names including Haynes, Richardson, Lara, Ambrose and Walsh - among others.
Of course they were vulnerable at that stage. Ricky Ponting was still producing great feats - he made a century and 99 in the second Test at the MCG - but Matthew Hayden was finished as an international player, Michael Clarke was still too loose, Andrew Symonds, despite trying to act tough, was weighed down by the mental damage inflicted by the previous season’s drama with Harbhajan Singh and India and Brett Lee wasn’t fit.
The next day, despite some in the Australian media, thinking that South Africa simply had to choke at some point, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy - the latter making his Test debut - calmly and stylishly batted South Africa to a series lead. 414 remains the second highest successful fourth innings total.
Having battled to come to terms with the victory in Perth, about a week later the outcome in Melbourne had us shaking our heads in disbelief.
Was it really 10 years ago? Pass us another cold one.@shockerhess