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Home > India > Cricket > Column > Amit Patange

South Africa-Australia rivalry gets bigger

March 24, 2009

Australia underdogs? After having watched them winning the series in such combative and crusading manner, one has to think twice before calling them so. Barely two months after the humiliating defeats in their own backyard at the hands of same opponents, the Kangaroos rose from the ashes and bounced back d�j� vu 2005, when England [Images] won the Ashes only to see a whitewash, 15 months later.

A swallow did not make the South African summer but 3-3 is a fair result between two top-ranked teams. The rivalry is getting bigger and both teams will go hammer and tongs at each other in the following ODI series.

The Proteas must be more than eager to retain the top spot in ODIs which they took over from Aussies, of late.

At the Wanderers, Australia [Images] secured a remarkable win after early setbacks, and led the series 1-0. South Africa [Images] made steady progress while chasing down a mammoth total but the Australian bowlers didn't allow too many free runs and earned their wickets. Johnson rounded off a fantabulous game with eight wickets to back his unbeaten 96. The Aussies rode on Hughes's tons in both innings and by winning the second Test by 175 runs, had completely turned tables on South Africa.

The Proteas copied the Australian winning formula of dismissing the opposition cheaply and taking a huge lead, thanks to the centurions Kallis, De Villiers, the comeback man Prince and spinner Harris, who ran through the Aussie batting line-up to have a consolation victory in the dead rubber.

Australia were under pressure at the outset of the series to retain their No.1 ranking and they have done so in remorseless fashion, thanks to their young recruits. After the poor summer at home, they cleverly regrouped, revitalized by the ebullience of new inductees and with a more direful approach, handed the same medicine over to South Africans. The men Ponting had at his disposal had enough accomplishment, possession and determination to pull off miraculous success and they did hardly anything wrong in the first two tests.

Instead of crying over spilt milk, Ponting turned it on the South Africans with a pack of inexperienced but talented players.

Phillip Joel Hughes, the 20-year-old, New South Wales elegant left-hand bat, impressed all and sundry with his class and temperament and has impeccable timing. At the Oscars [Images], Slumdog took on the world, and at Durban, Hughes took on all of South Africa. He led the batting chart and scored couple of hundreds at the top after having a nervous debut at the new Wanderers Stadium, where he got out on naught.

Australia were looking for someone to take over from the just-retired Matthew Hayden [Images] and he is a more-than-suitable successor.

Another interesting prospect and another find-of-the-tour is Marcus North, the 29-year-old, well-organised Western Australian left-hand bat, who scored a century on debut at the Wanderers. He impressed everybody with his ability to score runs in difficult conditions and his precise and increasingly efficacious off-spin. Unfortunately he had to make way for fifth bowler at Newlands because of fever. Ponting missed the trick by fielding five specialist bowlers in the last Test where debutant McGain had had a bizarre debut and conceded 149 runs in 18 overs.

Johnson has become the Australian spearhead in the absence of Lee and has also fine-tuned his batting prowess. He scored 255 runs at brisk rate which included a maiden ton at Cape Town and topped the bowling chart with 16 wickets at 25 apiece and was rightly adjudged the player of the tournament. 

Clarke and Hussey had poor series with the bat and the former got out twice without troubling the scorers.

On the other hand, South Africa talked about highfalutin contrives but missed the mettle to espouse to positions as they exasperated by the trice. The South Africans reacted like newborns when Aussies launched the assail. Their batting approach Down Under and at home was as different as chalk from cheese. The 'Road to Damascus' change for SA batting in first two tests meant the lost series and the gone chance to alter the ICC [Images] top spot. SA counted on their blessings and managed to salvage their pride by winning the last Test by an innings, something that Aussies remained untested in last decennium.

The top order was brittle in first two Tests and the injury woes to the captain, caused beyond-repairable damage. A B de Villiers, who was among the runs, scored a couple of hundreds, and Kallis hit form in this series to score 289 runs.

Amla and McKenzie had forgettable series and the latter was sacked for the last Test due to his poor run in last few months. It is next-to-impossible for him to come back in the team as Prince made a strong statement by scoring a century in the only chance he got after missing as many as six tests. Smith and Prince at the top looks a formidable combination at the moment.

Steyn, at his usual best, had 16 scalps and was well-supported by Harris, whose splendid show earned him the man-of-the match award at Newlands.

M Morkel, on the other hand, is still just forbidding to become a fierce Test bowler and has also lost his batting ability of late.

Morne made way for his brother A Morkel for the final Test, but even he failed to impress with his bowling, though he scored a valuable fifty on debut.

So the high-intensity Test series comes to an end and the game's followers witnessed truly competitive cricket in last three months or so. One can expect the same kind of intensity in the T20 and the ODI series to be played in the coming days.

It's inexpedient to term any of these teams as underdogs. The series win proved enough for Australia to win the battle of legitimacy in longer format of the game. Can they nab the top spot in ODIs too?

Editor's note: Rediff believes that like its own editorial staffers, readers too have points of view on the many issues relating to cricket as it is played.

Therefore, Rediff provides in its editorial section space for readers to write in, with their views. The views expressed by the readers are carried as written, in order to preserve the original voice.

However, it needs mentioning that guest columns are opinion pieces, and reflect only the feelings of the individual concerned -- the fact that they are published on Rediff's cricket site does not amount to an endorsement by the editorial staff of the opinions expressed in these columns.

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