Last year, South Africa landed in India as one of the best Test teams in the world. After winning the one-day series in a commendable fashion, the Proteas were expected to finish the Test series in style. They had the bowlers and batsmen to dominate against the home team, and above all, the charisma of AB de Villiers was always there to give the team an extra boost even on the spin friendly tracks.
However, as soon as the Test series commenced, the visitors were found wanting. A lingering groyne injury limited the participation of Dale Steyn in the Test series while the service of Vernon Philander was also missed due to an injury. The Proteas attack already lost it’s killer punch and then, the rank-turners simply devoured the best batting line-up in world cricket mercilessly. South Africa ended the tour in a shambolic manner as they failed to stay strong under pressure.
When England came to visit South Africa last December, Dale Steyn had hurt his shoulder midway through the series in Durban and had to be sidelined for the rest of the series. The outcome was not good for the home team as England won the series and shrugged off the frustrations of the defeat against Pakistan.
South Africa were left wondering about their terrible lean patch while Russell Domingo’s credibilities as a coach came under scrutiny. The team had yet again failed to regroup and rediscover their fighting spirit when the going got tough, and the inability to exhibit composure under difficult circumstances made them a soft target.
Another difficult situation
At Perth, in the first Test against Australia, David Warner and Shaun Marsh were scripting a jolly-bash against the South African bowling attack. The Proteas batting line-up minus AB de Villiers failed to weather the storm of the Australian pace attack and were bundled out cheaply. Warner and Marsh were rubbing salt in their wound by scripting an opening stand of 158.
Steyn succeeded in halting Warner’s hundred, but he could not bowl further in the match due to a shoulder injury. The situation was bemusing for the South African captain Faf du Plessis as he would have to rely on his three-man bowling attack and one of them playing in his first ever Test match.
The task for Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj was like climbing a mountain against the Australian batting line-up whose plan was to bat out the visitors in the first innings. The South Africans came under the same pressure, which has always proved to be their undoing and even a die hard Proteas fan must have given up the hopes of a bounce back when they witnessed Steyn leave the field with a sad face.
In such situations, a lot depends on the captain. The members of the team look up to their skipper in search for inspiration. At Perth, Faf was not down and dusted by the heat of the situation, but searched for wickets despite Australia’s strong position.
He utilised his limited options smartly and encouraged his bowlers to attack. Rabada and Philander bowled full and at pace with an attacking line. They made full use of the conditions which aided reverse swing and set jitters in the Australian batting line-up who collapsed from 158 for 0 to 244 all out.
Such an exhibition of character rekindled the fighting spirit within the team and worked as a tonic to gain authority over the home team who were well known for their fighting qualities.
JP Duminy and Dean Elgar scripted one of the inspiring partnerships ever played on Australian soil by a visiting team to build the platform for a historic win against all the odds. Both Duminy and Elgar smashed hundreds while Quinton De Kock and Philander added more agonies to the Australian cause who looked pale under the hot sun at Perth.
The WACA track was still better to bat on, and the opportunity was there for the Australian batters to hang on for a draw. But this South African team are like wounded Tigers and would not get satisfied with just a tight finish.
The 21-year old Rabada was a like a black panther and hunted for his prey. His inswing, outswing, yorker, late movement, length balls and utilisation of the cracks intelligently sunk Australia and made this Test match a part of South African cricket’s folklore.
Tough challenges didn’t melt South Africa at Perth. The lads from the rainbow nation maintained their composure better than the home team. Especially, Faf deserves a lot of credit for his attacking captaincy. In Test cricket, a defensive mindset never fetches better results, and Faf is well aware of this.
A great victory for South Africa and they are expected to get better and better from here in the upcoming Test matches.