Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day December 3, 2012

Big win confirms South Africa as No. 1


South Africa 225 (du Plessis 78*) and 569 (Amla 196, de Villiers 169, Smith 84, Starc 6-154) beat Australia 163 (Wade 68, Steyn 4-40) and 322 (Starc 68*, Cowan 53, Steyn 3-72, Peterson 3-127) by 309 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

To crib a line from E.T.'s Elliot, this is reality. South Africa embossed their No. 1 ranking with a fearful hiding of Australia in the series-deciding third Test in Perth, and not even the torrent of goodwill sent Ricky Ponting's way on his final day as an international cricketer could prevent resounding confirmation that the hosts remain a long way short of genuine aspirations to be the best team in the world. Three-hundred-and-nine runs short, in fact.

Ponting made an emotional last appearance at the Test match batting crease - fittingly afforded a guard of honour by Graeme Smith - but his final tally of eight was as unsatisfying as the rest of the day for Australia, as they failed completely to cope with the dimensions of a world-record run chase, or alternatively the need to bat for two days to save the match. The Ponting episode was a brief interlude in a day characterised by South Africa's unrelenting attack on the batsmen.

In the end it was the No. 10 Mitchell Starc who top scored with a freewheeling 68, entertainment for the crowd but an indictment on those before him. Only the obdurate Ed Cowan stood his ground for any length of time, but even he had reason to curse the manner of his departure, hooking at Dale Steyn and being taken at deep square leg.

Others were out in similarly cavalier manner without applying themselves for anywhere near as long, as Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Robin Peterson benefited from the pressure applied by each other. Peterson's left-arm spin was a particular delight for the visitors, drift, turn and bounce perhaps earning him a more permanent Test place ahead of the looser leg breaks of Imran Tahir.

South Africa's victory was just reward for a persistent campaign that showed an experienced understanding of Test cricket's nature as a game where how a team starts is far less critical than how one finishes. Passive at times in Brisbane and Adelaide, the visitors reached the WACA ground with the series all square thanks to the magnificent defiance of Faf du Plessis, and in the decider showed an instinct for the kill that underlined their ultimate superiority.

Australia, meanwhile, bore the look of a team that had fired all their bullets in the first two Tests. Despite a decent start to the match with a completely recast bowling attack, they were cut to pieces on the second day, those six hours opening a chasm that not even Ponting in his pomp would have had a chance of closing. Spectators were left to wonder how much Ponting's sorrowful exit had affected Australia's performance. On the final day their batting appeared distracted, showing little real interest in fighting the match out to a finish. It was Michael Clarke's first series loss as captain.

Any remote hopes Australia had harboured of producing something miraculous were more or less negated by the day's second ball. Philander had beaten Cowan outside off stump a few times on the third evening with balls seaming away, but this time David Warner snicked a similar delivery low to an exultant Smith at first slip.

Shane Watson and Cowan persisted for a time against bowling that was never less than exacting, their few angry shots standing out against mainly stony defence. Watson's quest to become a Test No. 3 of the required thoroughness is well-known, but he was to fall short again, shunted out by Morkel's hostility. First a bouncer singed Watson's nose, and next ball a fuller delivery on an immaculate line coaxed an edge to slip

That brought Ponting to the crease for what many hoped would be a major score. Ponting moved off nought with a regal pull shot from the bowling of Morkel, but exited when trying to force Peterson off the back foot through cover, Jacques Kallis taking a smart catch at slip. He walked from the field briskly, but turned to wave his bat to the WACA ground crowd one last time, as the ground's big screen was emblazoned with the words 'Thanks Ricky'.

Clarke and Cowan resumed after lunch with an aggressive approach, but it would prove the undoing of both. Cowan's hook at Steyn allowed Dean Elgar the first positive contribution of his debut as he tumbled to take the catch. Clarke was doubled over in pain when Philander struck him a stinging blow in the groin, and after a delay he resumed with seemingly little intention of knuckling down for the day. There were some attractive strokes, but it was no great surprise when Clarke jumped down the wicket to a beautifully teasing delivery from Peterson, was beaten in flight and spin and stumped by a distance.

Hussey's match concluded when he was nipped out from around the wicket for the second time in the match, and Matthew Wade's vain attempt to slog Peterson ended with a sharp catch at short midwicket. Mitchell Johnson did not last long after tea, snicking Philander, and John Hastings struck a pair of blows before doing likewise to Morkel. Nathan Lyon hung around long enough to help Starc hit out with some effect, notching a half-century from a mere 32 balls, but his parting shots were of only the briefest irritation to South Africa, rightfully the world's best team.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cameron on December 3, 2012, 23:49 GMT

    To say SA didn't deserve to win is plain wrong. That would not be giving anywhere near enough credit to the great defensive effort to save the Adelaide test. If you can't close out a test match when you have the opportunity it can really hurt you from a series point of view. We have seen that here and in the last Ashes series in England. This was a great series to watch and the bottom line is that SA are a very, very good team with a strong core of outstanding players in the sweet spot age bracket of 27 to 32 with great test experience plus one 37 year old freak. Australia is still very much in transition and searching for the best squad of 15, let alone the best 11.

  • Sean on December 3, 2012, 23:31 GMT

    Australia's 3rd place ranking is as high as your gonna get, SA & Eng are the heavyweights!

  • Ross on December 3, 2012, 23:10 GMT

    Agree with the likes of CricHorizon and Edwards_A, with the great Ponting retired we now must rebuild for the ashes. Punter was a legend and I think he could have gone on longer if he wanted but he is a team man and the moment he thought he couldn't contribute to his standards he retired, hats off to him. He is right about the options available for his replacements, as a Bulls fan I would be biased towards Usman but he has earned it too, thanks to his batting this year we are at the top of the shield table, he single handidly won the game against Tasmania where his 140 odd outscored the Tasmanian's total. I think he is exactly what we need in the top order. Doolan is another one for me who I would keep my eye on.

  • John on December 3, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    Well played SA. I certainly wouldn't go as far to say SA didn't deserve to win but I must commiserate with Australia/Australian fans who must all be feeling what might have been...? Think Mervo summed it up well in that there is little between these 2 sides and sometimes the gods don't smile on you. Funny to see the usual suspects booing/gloating.

  • John on December 3, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer on (December 03 2012, 14:37 PM GMT) You could be right there , although I think we go too far the other way and a couple of our players are getting picked for their past performances rather than what they're doing now.

  • John on December 3, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    @Harmony111 on (December 03 2012, 09:12 AM GMT) Fair point re SA and spinners but I wonder if they have actually got decent spinners but have made an error in sticking with Tahir all this time?

  • Keertu on December 3, 2012, 22:51 GMT

    Someone mentioned in here that England is the top 3 test team in the last 10 years. That too me is the biggest joke I've heard in the last 10 years.

  • Shulz Van on December 3, 2012, 22:50 GMT

    @MARLBORO19 AND MArCIO. To all the sporting OZ fans thanks for all the nice comments about SA cricket team. You guys realised how great this SA team is. OZ can become better but they have to sort out some selection problems. SA are clearly the best side in Test Cricket right now. Even in their bad days they are good enough to hold on to draws. And in their better days they can blow away any side. Now thats the sign of the no.1 side. SA's 1 good test was better than 2 good test Aus had. To Marlboro19 and Marcio: Both sides had the same share of fortunes. Remember one thing fortune favors the brave n strong. But ur comments suggest you guys are kinda disturbed by the defeat. But at the end of the day whatever u say n believe if it helps u sleep better at night than i dont have a problem. Merry Xmas and a Happy New year.

  • Dale on December 3, 2012, 22:43 GMT

    Great series - well done SA that was an awesome test - shame you didn't play with the same intensity in the first two. Series will be known for key injuries which affected both teams. Looks like poor old Black Caps could be in for a hiding as they have to try and play this SA team in SA now ---- Owell. Maybe they will rest Philander, Steyn, Amla and De Villers to even it up a little - lol.

  • syed naveed on December 3, 2012, 22:23 GMT

    @ Malboro19 , you said "I will have to say Aus did dominate most of this series , and they were unlucky to loose it. SA won't be no. 1 for long , enjoy till it lasts". well !,how could you say this ?.remember,in the first test duminy was injured on the 1st day of the test match, while in the second test, kallis got injured also on the 1st day of the test match, after taking 2 wickets in just less than 3 overs he bowled there, and was unable to bat on his regular number 4 position.despite that their remaining players fought extremely hard to draw those test matches, & when they played with their full strength, they knocked the AUS within 4 days of the test match. further more, it was SA ,who came to AUS as no 1 ranked side in the world,& they kept their 1st position intact. yes, this series was like a boxing match, AUS side punching the SA badly in the first 2 test matches, but when the SA side got the opportunity they, knocked out the AUS. side.yes no one is going to stay no1 4 ever.

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