Preview, 3rd Test, Cape Town
Since 1992, there have been results in all but one test series between these two Champion teams. Except for the last one played in South Africa in 2011 (1-1), where 18 year old debutant Pat Cummins won the weaker Australians a match, there has always been a winner.
The 2014 series, in all probability, will be no exception. 2 matches up, with the score 1-1, the Cape Town Test is the final and deciding test in a series which has one team punching well above its weight, giving the Champions a run for their money. Australia is the only test team that has challenged the might of South Africa in the last 6 years, even during their downfall. They have won 5, to South Africa’s 6 in this period, and somehow always find a way to win matches in South Africa. At the same time, they have lost two series at home to the Proteas, without ever getting blown away or destroyed.
The rivalry between these two teams is most exciting to watch, because teams like India and England operate in extremes, and it is no coincidence that these two have the best overseas record in the last decade. It becomes a contest, irrespective of where they play.
Mitchell Johnson shocked the South Africans into a heavy defeat in the first test with 12 wickets. Many wondered if England were weak after all, considering even the South Africans couldn’t handle him on home soil.
But there has seldom been a better counter attacking test team in the history of the game. So often, South Africa has lost the first test of a series and immediately punched back to win the next. The selections they made looked desperate, but they worked, and they won despite losing a frontline bowler (Parnell) in the second innings. Because, Steyn.
Without Kallis, with Amla in poor form, with Smith still a bunny, and with Duminy yet to prove himself, the South Africans entered the second test in a brittle frame of mind. Surely, they can’t have found a solution overnight.
But the pitch did the rest. A flat, dead pitch helped them score over 400 in their first innings, and Steyn, Morkel and Philander became masters of the old ball, bowling Australia out twice in under two days.
I came across a poster that had a photoshopped Steyn with a handlebar moustache, staring at the camera in his best Wild West impression, pointing and saying, ‘Your move, Mitch.’
And it is. There has never been a recent series where it has been such a direct shootout between the two best fast bowlers in world cricket. It isn’t about the batsmen, it isn’t about the captains.
It is all about the bowlers. Two bowlers, for now.
And that is always good news for cricket.