|Ryan Harris 24.3-15-32-4|
As the heir to the throne, AB de Villiers, batted in that manner he so abhors, denying himself drives and pulls and hiding his bat from the ball. He played for more than five hours like that and was helped along the way in the latter order by du Plessis, Duminy and Philander, who all batted for more than two and half hours in order to save the series and Graeme Smith imposing captaincy record. Dale Steyn batted longer than he bowled in this Test ... 75 minutes for just 1. Just often enough, as is the case in these attritional battles, the Australians found the right line and wickets were eked from the Sarth Efrikans.
In the end, Harris rolled in on one leg, a man of such good humour and love of his team mates that talk of courage and determination are laughed off when reporters bandy them about in press conferences. Harris is there to play: there to give his best. Others might have been thinking of an Adelaide draw a few years ago but Harry is an unintentional Buddhist. The moment is the next ball. That's where he stays. In three balls, an hour of his team mates worry and his captains manufactured cool, were a slate wiped clean. Steyn and Morkel bowled ... what's the fuss ... let's get on with the celebration.
Young kids might like the idea of growing up like Mitchell Johnson but I'd be pretty happy if my sons were like Ryan Harris.
|Winners are grinners: losers need Lehmann|
Lehmann's players - in and out of the team - want to be there. They have confidence in themselves because of the confidence they feel has been offered them. Contrast again, this time to Mickey Arthur and his divide and conquer routines. No trust offered, none given.
The emergence of Johnson has been prominent in the direction of praise to the coach but the same art of finding the right strings to pull, knowing when to pull them and when to let the player make their own dance has also been stunningly obvious in Dave Warner. Every time Warner opens his mouth he seems to be missing the big red nose, the floppy oversized shoes and the pom-pom suit but on the field, he has turned the promise of maturity into a dividend. He is the most feared opening batsman in world cricket with an ability to take a game off you in one session and his 1066 runs @ 71 with five hundreds pretty much closes down the knockers. Sure, he won't retain that strike rate because the way he plays means misjudgment isn't far away. He belongs in the long games. Lehmann made him believe.
So the summer ends and Australia is number two and likely to stay there for a while yet because no substantial opposition is scheduled for a while and its hard to climb a tree when you have to keep going down to the lower limbs. The gap to South Africa can only be closed if the numero uno wilts. At this point, its again questionable that the league table concept is the best manner by which the best team in the world should be decided but then, the table isn't really about deciding any position except the subsidiary ones.
The argument would go along the lines that South Africa have been unbeaten for five years and have earned the top spot and despite losing on home soil, should retain it. Perhaps but most would agree, table position or not, that these two teams are the best at Test level ... therefore, if the best gets beaten, doesn 't that make the victor the best.
Those who play the game at this elite level could soon give you the answer. If a poll were held and none were allowed to vote for their own team, which country do you think the players believe is number one. The real Test is, if playing on a neutral ground with a wicket that had pace on the first two days and spin on the last and a consistent bounce, which side would international players least like to face.
If you beat the best, you are the best.
In football codes, the last five years don't mean a thing: its who wins the grand final. Even in the ICC One Day World Cup, winning in the opening rounds means very little if you lose the final and the winners are called the World Champions. Their ICC rating means bugger all.
These three epic Test matches highlight again the ridiculous nature of scheduling. At what point will cricket authorities arrange five Tests between the world's closest rivals? Its time the ICC steps in and demands it.
|Smith - an man of integrity|
Any summation of the South African leg of the Australian summer would be incomplete with a comment on Graeme Smith. His stats are splendid but as is often the case, they deny the truth of his captaincy. He got the job early - at 22 - following on from Shaun Pollock and had only nine Tests experience to see how the game is played among the men. For the last five years his side has been unbeatable, thanks to remarkable players who could deliver the impossible and bring it, like a cat does a mouse to its owner, to Graeme Smith for approval. The reality of his captaincy record is something different. On the field, he has always been a defensive captain, slow to declare and obsessed with not losing: a fear which stemmed from the many times South Africa lost when they had the game by the scruff of the neck. Choke was a term used and it was as denied as it was apt. Therefore, he captained like an Englishman, while expat Andrew Strauss captained like a South African.
Smith is also the worst looking batsman to score more than 5000 Test runs. His technique was dreadful. Almost everything was worked to the leg side and 60% of his dismissals were bowled (more than half of them off the inside edge), lbw or caught behind, as he played across the line at every ball, looking for square leg. Yet, he scored 27 hundreds, five of them doubles, all in defiance of how he looked. In the last gasp, he averaged less than 8 and didn't make fifty runs in the series, let alone score a fifty. Age didn't weary him but responsibility did: responsibility and a lack of support from South African cricket fans who were shouting their praise at the close of play in Capetown but have several times howled for his head after dramatic losses.
He was hard though and only forced into compromise by extreme circumstance. No quarter. No acceptance of failure.
For all of that, he is a man admired. A man Ricky Ponting rated as one of his sternest opponents, as does Clarke who said after the match "He is what Ricky Ponting was to the Australian team.
"I had the utmost respect for him as a player and a captain, and I think I've learned a lot from him as an opposition player and an opposition captain
Despite that flinty hardness that is his birthright, it was Smith that formed his players into a guard of honour in Perth in tribute, not only to Ponting but equally, to the game. Such actions are made by one with a heart for the game and reverence for its best things. A Custodian.
He's off to an easier life. Recently granted Irish citizenship - his wife's country of birth - he'll accept a position in an English county side without having to qualify as overseas player and play out the next seven or eight years earning good money without the pressure of being South Africa's captain. His daughter, who has been in and out of hospital recently, was probably the first straw, not the last.
Maybe now the 'ard 'mon can afford a smile.