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

South Africa rightly the best side - Clarke


In the end, the best team won. Not the team that played best in Brisbane or Adelaide. But unquestionably the team that dictated proceedings in Perth, and the team that before this series started, and after it ended, were ranked No.1 in the world. The gap between South Africa and Australia may not be enormous, but over the past few days at the WACA, Graeme Smith's men showed Michael Clarke's players why they have reached the top.

By owning the second day of this grand final, South Africa owned the series, and the Test championship mace that went with it. By dismissing the Australians for 163 on a good batting pitch, Dale Steyn and his colleagues made the previous 11 days of the series irrelevant. Australia were four wickets from victory at the Gabba, but would South Africa have played the same way if the second day hadn't been washed out? The hosts were two wickets from a win in Adelaide, but South Africa were good enough to deny them.

And when the Australians had to dig themselves out of a hole in Perth, they were unable to. The bowlers found the going tough as the South Africans piled up 565 in the second innings, but the damage was done when Australia had batted. In defeat, Australia's captain Michael Clarke conceded that his side had failed to make use of the upper hand they held so often in the series.

"I don't want to take anything away from South Africa," Clarke said. "They showed why they're the No.1 Test team in the world. On the other hand I want to pay credit to the Australian boys to be able to fight it out so tough and stay strong up until this Test match. What South Africa showed us is when they had momentum, they ran with it for as long as they possibly could and when they didn't have [it], they did everything in their power to fight their backsides off to try and grab it back.

"There's probably a few occasions throughout the series where we had momentum and didn't run with it for long enough, that's for sure. Against these teams, the best teams, you can't afford to do that … There's plenty of pros and cons and that's something we need to do over the next few days, to assess where we continue to improve and the positives we can take from this series, the areas we need to get better if we want to be the No.1 team in the world."

One of those areas is glaringly obvious. The failure of Australia's top three to provide consistently strong starts is becoming a major problem. In this series, Australia's totals at three wickets down were 40, 55, 91, 34 and 102. That makes life tough for the middle order, and for the bowlers who must then keep the opposition in check in the same way. At the WACA, that was too much to ask of an attack featuring Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, debutant John Hastings and Nathan Lyon.

"I don't want to take anything away from the Australian bowlers, I thought they bowled really well in the first innings and tried their backside off on a flat wicket in the second innings," Clarke said. "I believe the reason we didn't give ourselves the best chance of winning this Test match is because of the way we batted in our first innings."

The missed opportunity to reclaim the No.1 Test ranking hurt the Australians even more given they wanted to provide Ricky Ponting with a fitting send-off. The challenge for Clarke and Australia's coach Mickey Arthur is now to move on to the Sri Lankan series that begins next week, and to find inspiration without their most capped player being part of the setup.

"It's been a tough week, that's for sure," Clarke said. "I still don't think it's hit the players fully yet. I think it will come the first Test against Sri Lanka when we walk out on the field and see he's not there. It's not just about what he does on the field, it's also off the field, around training sessions, in the change-room, his help, advice, guidance, is something that can't be replaced."

Like Clarke, Ponting endured a series loss to South Africa at home when he was captain. Four years ago, Smith's men chased down 414 in Perth, one of Test cricket's most epic achievements, and it set up their winning tour. Within a year, they were the No.1 team in the world. Another Perth triumph has kept them there.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Fawad on December 5, 2012, 18:17 GMT

    SAF were never troubled in the series. They showed they were #1 test team in the world. Yes they had pressure in the second test match only because of Clarke's batting brilliance. If Clarke does not perform AUS will loose, we saw that in PERTH.

    AUS's best chance of regaining the ASHES will only be after they correct their batting order. Top three best batsman of the team should play at the top 4 of the batting order like SAF. 1. Watson 2. Warner 3. Clarke 4. Hussey 5. Khawaja 6. Cowan 7. Haddin/Wade. Coach/Captain can shuffle Watson with Cowan if they feel there is too much pressure on the allrounder as an opener.

  • Amol on December 5, 2012, 16:39 GMT

    After not missing a single SA v AUS Test series since 2001 till today, I can confidently say that the only guy between SA's victory path was the great Shane Warne. He was th eonly difference between the two teams. He used to change the match on Day SA were always under psychological pressure till Day 5.

  • Casper on December 5, 2012, 13:57 GMT

    hmmm as an South African i do not see any South African supporter comparing this team with the windies/Ausies of yesteryear - every1 says stop comparing them but by saying that you do exactly that - this is a great team but by no means can this team (or any other team) be compared to those yet - even though we have only lost 1 test series - to same Ausies we have beaten now 2x in their own backyard - in 6 years, but i have yet to see a south african supporter to compare this team to the ausies and windies - must say all this hype does make me proud to be a south african :) when the next number 1 team rises to the top - THEN I hope every1 say stop comparing the new number 1 team with the windies/ausies/saffa team of yesteryear - then we will be where it matters - with the legends ;)

  • Edward on December 5, 2012, 12:18 GMT

    I have enjoyed watching this series. It had everything expected of a good thriller and the Adelaide test was one of the best I have ever watched. There is a maturity about this team that was lacking in past years. Gone are the days when a young Graeme Smith would react (sometimes so foolishly) to the provocative pre-match talk of other teams, Australia in particular. Now they just go about their bussiness in a very quiet and professional manner. They have done that in England and now in Australia repeated same. I am sure the Australians and other teams continue to sledge and try to unnerve opposition batsmen but it seems to have had little effect on the SA batsmen this time. Just think what Faf Du Plessis had to put up with in his marvelous innings in Adelaide. This team is great, maybe not the best yet. I am sure they are working on it every single day. We hope for a good recovery for JP Duminy and maybe we'll see Quinton de Kock coming through sometime soon in the future. Go well!

  • Thabang on December 5, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    The Proteas are a good team,as a South African I know that they do not come close to the West Indies and the Australian sides of the past.It's only when you compare the with other teams currently that you realize that there is no other team currently that can claim to be better than them.

  • Cameron on December 5, 2012, 3:23 GMT

    To me a ranking of about 3 or 4 is right for Australia in test cricket. If you recall the great Aussie team of the 90's and 2000's they were a very settled team with many automatic selections; Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Waugh, Gilchrist, McGrath, Warne, Gillespie, Martyn and others were all automatic selections for a long period of time with no debate from fans or media. Now It could be argued that the only certain selections are Clarke and Hussey with question marks over every other spot in the team. SA and England to me are rightfully ranked above Australia and have very settled teams. For SA Smith, A Petersen, Amla, Kallis, DeVillers, Steyn, Morkel and Phillander are all absolute certainties with Duminy now close to that when fit. Their only real questions are who is the spinner and does AB keep. Similarly for England Cook, Trott, Peterson, Bell, Prior, Anderson, Broad,and Swan are all very certain selections. Both teams have good batting line ups but for me SA has better pace

  • Harsh on December 5, 2012, 3:02 GMT

    Congratulations to South Africa for acheiving one of their most thumping triumphs of all time in Australia.They stuck to the task throughout the game with the professionalism of a winning team.They deserve to be at the top of the test cricket world with their succcesive triumphs in England and Australia.

    Morally,however the series should have been a drawn as the Aussies outplayed the Proteas in the 1st 2 tests and all but one the 2nd.In my view to have been an outstanding champion team the Proteas should have atleast displayed overwhelming superiority ion 2 of the 3 test matches.Australia were also at a disadvanatage losing the cream of their pace attack in the last test and Pattinson in the 2nd test when they were on the doorstep of victory.

    No doubt South Africa would have stayed on the top with a drawn rubber,but to me even if they are the best team I would not compare them with the champion Australian teams of the recent past or the West Indian teams of yesteryears.

  • charlie on December 5, 2012, 1:26 GMT

    What's with all the excuses about Australia's attack ? How much better do you want an attack to be ,with Starc and Johnson bowling so well ? The truth is ,inconsistant batting cost Australia dearly , with Ponting failing miserably and other top order bats underperforming ; why wasn't Khawaja given another chance ? It's my opinion that PONTING WAS GIVEN AN ULTIMATUM BY THE SELECTORS IN ORDER TO SAVE HIM THE AGONY OF BEING DROPPED ,and this should open the door for the afore mentioned .

  • Andrew on December 5, 2012, 1:17 GMT

    @Keith LR - the point I was making was you said "...currently the best side in the world, by some distance..." - some distance implies a long way, which is not a measurable fact. For all Sth Africa did in this series, (in winning it), they were under pressure by a side that went well against them, a 1nil scoreline does not suggest a side being that much better than Oz. Sth Africa had some hurdles, so too did Oz. I look forward to future battles (hopefully over 5 Tests).

  • Mick on December 4, 2012, 22:45 GMT

    @Hammond: Will England show whose really the best in the world - then go on a monumental losing streak? Again? The poms will never create a truly great side because they get so excited with mediocrity that it always comes crashing down so quickly.

  • No featured comments at the moment.