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Old guard and young turks combine for stunning victory

November 22, 2011

In a finish benefiting an extraordinary test and indeed, an extraordinary series, Australia battled its way to a two wicket victory in the second and final test against South Africa in Johannesburg.

Initially it seemed as if rain would be the winner, with it pouring down much to the despair of cricket fans across the world, who could only wait.

Wait they did and when it eventually cleared, the delay of  3 hours seemed only to heighten the tension, every previous day the players were expected to go off early due to bad light, so Australia not only had to make 168 more runs, they would also have to do it at some pace.

That Australia could get anywhere near getting the near the winning target of 310 seemed more fit for a Lewis Carroll story than reality, after Clarke was clean bowled by Vernus Philander for two.  Philander, who it must be remembered was only in his second ever test match, had been bowling beautifully all morning and this was the highpoint. The ball hit the seam, deviated, went in between Clarke’s bat and pads and cleaned out his stumps.

The score now was 4 for 145, with Michael Hussey joining Ponting at the crease. The South African bowlers , spurred on by the wicket, were relentless in bowling a good line and length.

It was a loose ball, though, that get them their wicket. Frustrated at the slow going, Ponting attempted a flat footed cut shot, it hit the toe of the bat and went straight to Rudolph in the slips.

Ponting’s innings of 62 was a good one in circumstances but there was an air of uncertainty as he left the field as to whether we had just witnessed the last innings of a great of the game.

Ponting, fighting for his career, was replaced by another in the same position, Brad Haddin. Haddin, widely criticised for his charge down the wicket that lead to his demise in Cape Town, knew that he would have to bat against his instincts and try to patiently construct an innings.

It was the only thing to do in the circumstance, as all the South African bowlers were giving the batsmen trouble.  They had pushed up the score to 215 from 165, when that man Philander again struck with a good length that rapt Hussey across the pads  and he was given, after Hussey out of desperation, called on the DRS system to save him.

Hussey’s wicket was thought to be the end. Chief cricket writer for News Ltd was moved to write on twitter “Game and series gone. Start again time in brisbane.”

Replacing Hussey was Mitchell Johnson, struggling with the ball, now was the time to make a contribution to a historic victory. Haddin and Johnson are both hardly known though for their restraint while batting and it seemed like there would be fireworks either way.

It seemed, though, that they were content to push around singles  before tea when they push the score for 222.

The tea break, in the end, turned out to be a crucial point. While we cannot confirm what was said, it seems likely that Haddin and Johnson were given free reign to play their shots, with Australia wisely realising that accumulating runs quickly was the only way to square the series.

Haddin and Johnson were only too happy to oblige. Philander went for 9, Steyn 11, then a calm before Morkel came on and was hit for 7 and 9  in consecutive overs and Tahrir for 8 at the over end.

In the space of eight overs, Australia went from needing 88 to just needing 34 with 4 wickets in hand.

South Africa weren’t done, though, as they turned to Philander with the new ball to deliver and he did in his second over.  He swung the ball away from Haddin, who got a faint edge, which went through to Boucher. The score was now 7 for 287. Haddin out for 55 had put Australia in a prime position and in the process probably prolonged his test career.

With 23 still to go and no recognised batsmen left, it was going to be an extremely tense finish.

It became even tenser when Siddle, after smacking Steyn for four, holed out to Tahrir, now leaving 18 runs to get with two wickets left.

Debutant Pat Cummins came out for only his second ever test innings. If he was nervous, he didn’t show it, with the abandon that 18 year olds tend to have, Cummins began swinging like a golf player. Nicking,  swinging and missing, Cummins managed to avoid getting out and smashed some fours in the process till the score was 306, with Australia seeming destined for victory and Cummins the man to deliver it.

There was, however, one last twist, when Tahrir beat Cummins with his googly and hit him on his pads. South Africa went up with a good shout, it was turned down  but it was immediately reviewed. Two red lights went up but the line was given as an umpire’s call, meaning Cummins was safe. Good for Cummings, it was even better for Nathan Lyon, who seemed absolutely paralysed with fear in the dressing room

Two balls after this excitement, Cummins lofted a shot over mid-wicket for four to get the winning runs. It only seemed fitting that it was the man of the match Cummings, as the rest of the dressing room were wild with jubilation

Australia, under so much pressure, achieved the highest ever fourth innings winning total in Johannesburg and showed  a resolve that many thought had gone.

Certainly there will be much to be said coming out of the match. What will happen to Ponting, Johnson and Haddin? Is Amla the best batsmen in the world at the moment? how good can Pat Cummins be?

It seems appropriate, though, for now to recognise the fact that only test cricket could deliver such intrigue and drama. Rumours of its death have been much exaggerated.

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