THE SERIES THAT SUSTAINS A KINGDOM: AUSTRALIA V/S SOUTH AFRICA

 Im’a Cummins, not Goins’ anywhere

1-1. Final Score. Premature end to an enthralling Test Series that had two teams fighting their own inner demons more than each other. Australia’s victory couldn’t have come at a better time, and cemented their belief of belonging to the top 3 once again.

If Sri Lanka and sub-continental pitches make for the worst possible advert for Test Cricket, there are teams like Australia and South Africa that- when combined- single handedly rescue Test Cricket from the depths of Dilshan’s tummy. While India tries its very best to roll over in denial against a toothless West Indian team back at home, in the process raising false hopes for its tour Down Under- Australia, for a year, have been battling just to stay at the top level, and not spiral downwards like their illustrious Caribbean dominators did, 15 years ago. They have succeeded, because every debutant that has been handed a Test Cap for the last two years now, have come and gone- but not without making more than a whimper. One-hit wonders, you’d call them, but you’d hope for the sake of Cricket’s future, that Australia’s latest offering to the pace world is more than just that. Cummins sounds like a name that suited the West Indian attack of yore. But, what’s in a name?

For more than a year now, Australia have seemingly been ‘in-transition’, and that’s still a mighty short period for a team that lost four of its most prolific contributors during a period of 6 months. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s just say that I will be a father by the time India decides to claw its way back into contention after the loss of their top 4 in Tests. Or even a priest, if they tour England again.

 Leaving on a jetplane?
 
South Africa, meanwhile, couldn’t have asked for a better way to get back in shape after quite a calorie-heavy season that included- wait for it- no Test matches. Well done, ICC- and what’s more- the masterminds decided that there could have been nothing better than an intense, result-oriented 2-match Test Series against their most fierce competitors at home. Optimistically, they didn’t expect a…*gasp*…1-1? How could they? Australia are declining, aren’t they? Forget the fact that Australia is the only team South Africa have to beat in their own backyard- in order to claim a unique distinction of having beaten all the test nations home and away in their short Test-Match history after ’91 (that is, incidentally, shorter than Tendulkar’s stay at the highest level).
A final frontier of sorts for Smith’s men, and a 2-match series was to provide a perfect finish to a record-breaking journey for this consistently top-class team? You couldn’t blame the ICC for smiling after the first test, where Australia capitulated and reminded the world that Pakistan is NOT the only team that should be investigated for sudden dips in performances…or even sudden flashes of brilliance.
Having said that, an 18-year old flash from an Orbit far away decided to grace his hapless team with his presence, and the boy that was born 3 years after Sachin Tendulkar began his Test Career, proceeded to live upto all expectations bestowed upon him- as the world’s next Brett Lee…in front of Dale Steyn and Co. Love them or hate them, but Australia are always at the forefront of every BEST-EVER Test Series ever played over the last decade or so- and are the perfect advert for the continued renewal of the longer form- in the form of the much needed Test Championships: A brainchild of the famed thinkthank of the ICC, slated to begin God-Knows-When. 
Pat Cummins made his Test Debut at Johannesburg, with Australia a test down, and a series loss possible against their run of play. After all, beating Lanka in Lanka is not an everyday-occurrence, and you’d have to be Pakistan to not be able to carry the momentum into your favourite destination South Africa- where a series is YET to be lost. Cummins was the backbone of Australia’s sudden and unexpected rise to immortality yet again, in the space of two days after 3 evenly-contested days, and the cheeky young lad even hit the winning runs with nothing more than a flashy grin and a pull over midwicket that would have put Laxman to shame. 
It takes considerable guts and immense mental strength to stay in the series after a sapping, morale-killing loss back in Durban. But for some reason, one could never see Australia, on the up-slide once again after a tough year, losing a series 2-0 without even putting up a fight. No, not when there has been a clear changing of guard- with Michael Clarke doing what Ponting failed to do for two years- be a playing Test Captain. This was arguably Ponting’s last innings on the test stage too, taking into consideration Australia’s infamous selection panel ruthlessness, but the old stalwart decided to give them something to think about with a hard-fought, tough-as-nails 63, just to keep their record chase in the fourth innings on track. He could go out on his own terms now, much like his predecessor Steve Waugh did, in the legendary 2004 series Down Under- with a last innings of 81 saving Australia from the ignominy of losing against India at home at their very peak. But will the two-match New Zealand series be his last ever appearance on the International stage? Or will it be his ticket to play an equally-downtrodden Indian side in his final fling with glory, and Sachin Tendulkar? 
The Ntini reloaded
 
Australia won by two wickets, not before Dale Steyn welcomes new coach Gary Kirsten into an environment built around the C-word (dropping Cummins, sealing their fate)- and even Mitchell Johnson gave himself some breathing space. 1-1 was the final score, and just when Australia was back…the series was over. This, taking into account every other series that these two great teams have contested in, with 2-1 Home and Away reverse-wins in 2008-09: a period that began Australia’s slide into mortality.
Haddin, Ponting and Johnson were the most vulnerable, and with Khwaja scoring an invaluable 65 to contribute to their win, he is primed to replace Ponting at even the slightest hint of failure against an ailing New Zealand in a week. Johnson has done nothing with the ball, and even his heroic innings with the bat may not save his spot. Haddin is playing for time, with a supremely talented Tim Paine ready to continue from where he left off two years ago. For the time being, the 3 have saved their spot- but that’s what so good about Australian sports, it is their timing. They stood up in the most dire of circumstances and strained to be counted, unlike many of the Indian seniors who refused to show up on a forgettable, nightmarish English tour.
While South Africa’s debutant Philander stole the limelight and paved a way to yet another Pace-dominated African future, Smith was left ruing Steyn’s sudden dip in form when it really mattered. 1-1, though, seemed a fair result- after a series that had more ups and downs that the last 10 Test and ODI series played in or by Sri Lanka, West Indies and New Zealand put together. 
A fitting end to a perfect finale, the two teams will look forward to greater challenges- like facing each other once again in two years. Hallelujah, and Long Live Test Cricket.

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