Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Perth, 5th day December 21, 2008

Chokers no more

History is written by the victors and this year South Africa have made so many alterations to the accepted version that the past is now irrelevant

The chase was so well calculated that it even allowed de Villiers to reach his century in the dying stages and Duminy to finish with an invaluable unbeaten 50 on debut © PA Photos

History is written by the victors and this year South Africa have made so many alterations to the accepted version that the past is now irrelevant. Their brilliant chase of 414, orchestrated by their two youngest batsmen, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy, proved again that no target is out of reach these days and that despite what Australia wanted to believe, South Africa hold no demons from past failures.

They are two matches from potentially climbing the biggest mountain in world cricket. Apparently, 2008 is the international year of the frog and it could well finish with South Africa poised to leap over Australia and into the top position on the world Test rankings. Wins in the remaining two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney will get them there and on the evidence displayed at the WACA, and with Australia to visit South Africa in February, it will be only a matter of time.

The key difference in this South African side compared to the older versions is their self-belief. Australia have daunted South Africa so much over the years that had Mitchell Johnson's eight-wicket haul come in a previous series the team's confidence would have been shattered. But the calmness of the captain Graeme Smith and the coach Mickey Arthur has rubbed off on this unit and the way they fought back to restrict Australia to 319 in the second innings was the key.

"There's only really one statement that stands out in the game," Smith said. "If we didn't rock up on the day after Mitchell's spell and bowl as well as we did, put that statement in place that we're here and we're not going away, then we wouldn't be sitting here today."

Smith was the hero when his team chased down 281 to win at Edgbaston this year, which gave them their first series victory in England for 43 years. He again made a century in this triumph, the second-highest chase of all time, which he was still struggling to comprehend after the match.

"We've had such an incredible last year and a half," Smith said. "Victories in the subcontinent, in England, a really big victory at Edgbaston, which was very emotional. But I think the emotions that we felt through this game, where we were and the way we came back, everyone has contributed so from that perspective it's got to be a great Test win for South Africa. It's got to go up there with my best wins ever."

Smith was underplaying the significance of the victory slightly. A visiting South African journalist said the win would rank alongside any of the nation's sporting achievements and it's hard to disagree. The enormity of the chase was one thing but defying the trend between the two sides made it all the more exhilarating. South Africa's most recent two wins against Australia had come in dead rubbers in Durban in 2001-02 and Centurion in 1996-97. Only once since readmission had they prevailed in Australia.

The key difference in this South African side compared to the older versions is their self-belief © Getty Images

It was the perfect chase, every bit as impressive as India's 387 in Chennai last week, not the least because it was away from home against the world's top-ranked team. It began with Smith and Hashim Amla building a platform, continued with de Villiers and Jacques Kallis reeling the target to within sight and culminated in de Villiers and Duminy completing the order. It was so well calculated that it even allowed de Villiers to reach his century in the dying stages and Duminy to finish with an invaluable unbeaten 50 on debut.

Both men thoroughly deserved the milestones and it completed their remarkable journey from the Under-11 tournaments they used to play against each other. They have taken different paths to the top, de Villiers being rushed into the side at 20 and being tried in just about every position over 47 Tests; and Duminy waiting on the fringes and watching enviously until a thumb injury to Ashwell Prince opened up a spot in this match.

When de Villiers was last seen in Australia in 2005-06 he was being tested as an opener and made a couple of promising half-centuries but was still learning on the job. He has matured immensely since then and, much like the string of brilliant catches he took during the match, he wasn't about to let this game slip through his hands. There was no streakiness and apart from a drive that just cleared mid-on, barely any half-chances.

He had come to the crease with 235 runs still required and but the target wasn't weighing on his mind. Small goals were set and partnerships were built, first with Kallis and then with Duminy. The century took care of itself and he celebrated enthusiastically when it came, not so much because of his score but because he had helped his team set up what by then was a certain victory.

"It was never really an issue if I get a hundred or not against the Aussies," de Villiers said. "It was just important to get through today. It's more important to win a Test match over here than get my own hundred. But it's done and it's great to have gotten a hundred and win the Test match in one game. It's an amazing feeling and it's a dream come true for me."

At 24, the men are younger than all of Australia's players bar Peter Siddle, who was born in the same year. That it has taken South Africa several years to build this side should not be lost on Australia, who are battling to balance struggling stars with new men still finding their feet. Australia have written the script between these sides for so long that it is hard to imagine a new author. Within the next fortnight, South Africa could write their own names into the history books.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amol on December 24, 2008, 18:46 GMT

    Chokers? SA? Nay. NOT Smith's Boys. Not since Smith took the reins in his hands. SA were always as talented (Read: Cullinan, Donald, Rhodes, Pollock, Cronje, Klusener, Kirsten) as the Oz (in hey days) but in those times they DO used to choke against the steely, chillingly cold-blooded ruthless Steve Waugh & co. in crunch situations in ODIs (Read: The 1999 WC Semi-Final Tie: Most Painful for a SA fan). All of a psychological & nothing of a talent problem. In Tests, the reality is that the only guy between SA & the Test Crown was Shane Warne. The only ones who could spank Warne were 1. the whole Indian team, 2. Kallis & 3. a certain guy called Kevin Pietersen. Else he spelled Doom for everybody. But Krejza\Hauritz is no Warne, Hilfenhaus\Bollinger is no McGrath. And most importantly, Ricky Ponting is no Steve Waugh. Definitely not without the legends Warne\McGrath. I don't know what stuff Steve 'The Machine' Waugh was made of. He simply used to bog down SA in critical junctures.

  • Amol on December 24, 2008, 17:39 GMT

    Oz will rebuild in a year, NO DOUBT, but there will never be another Warne. Good news for SA bats, bad news for Indian bats. Nothing used to give more pleasure than watching Warne playing chess with the hapless batsmen on the pitch. But Sachin & co. still spanked him. ha ! ha ! ha !

  • Amol on December 24, 2008, 17:26 GMT

    My Sixth Sense tells me SA\Oz are going to iron out their flaws from the previous test & try to strangulate\suffocate each other in the appropriately named 'Boxing Day' test. This would be less of Test & more of Chess & Boxing. As a SA fan, some memories are painful: 1. The spanking by Sanga and Jaya in Sri Lanka(2004 or 2006 ?). Both hit Double centuries. 2. Double century by Hodge in his first cap. 3. Ponting the Great, going on a massacre mission in 2005-2006. 4. Hussey's 122 while controlling the tail (most frustrating). 5. Shane Warne 6. Donald's breakdown in 2001-2002. But 2004 was the worst year for Smith's boys but then they were in building phase and still learning. People learn from Failures & not Successes. The worst phase has gone. In 2003, Smith had inherited leftovers & in 2004, Ponting had inherited a Rolls Royce. But now without Warne, the Oz are now on the receiving end for the first time for a change.

  • ARUN on December 24, 2008, 12:58 GMT

    1st Test was a Thriller. I really enjoyed the Test match. It was a seesaw battle. But in the end It was too easy for Proteas who won by 6 wickets. They could have chase 500 or more runs on that pitch. That gives the good idea of the pitch and how well Proteas Bowlers had performed in this match. It is very good to see all the Bowlers are among the wickets Unlike Australia only Mitchell Johnson has performed well. If this thing continues surely Australia will really struggle to match with Proteas because Proteas can only concentrate on Johnson's Bowling and they can dominate the other Bowlers. Australia's Top Order failed on both the Innings and It will also cause a major trouble to Aussies. Proteas bowled well fielded well and batted well and they deserve this victory. And if they win the series against Australia at Australia they thoroughly deserve to be world No-1. I am 100% sure that they will be world no-1 in ICC rankings at least after their home series against Australia.

  • babai on December 23, 2008, 16:33 GMT

    @TheDoctor394.. well do ya remember the partnership b/w sangakara n mahela against SA .. he he...

  • babai on December 23, 2008, 16:23 GMT

    what I have seen the aussies.. give them 1 year or so.. they ll again b back to their best.. well mate they r not west indies.. they know how to protect and explore their talent.. it does matter when u r looking for the replacement of Warnie and McGrath.. boy they ll b back.. from an Indian cricket lover

  • Amol on December 23, 2008, 5:09 GMT

    SA has Steyn, Morkel, Ntini, Kallis (Mr. Cricket), the effective Harris - all proven performers and other upcoming quality bowlers.

    Oz ? The problem with Oz is: they have all upcoming Batsmen but no one to replace Warne. The ageing Lee (32) has been expensive against competitive rivals India\SA. His excellent performance against any other opponent now won't satisfy the selection committee. Watson - an All Rounder not a specialist bowler. Hilfenhaus - unknown, just yet another Pace-man vs SA. Siddle & Krejza - still learners. In reality, Krejza holds no future promise v. SA\India. So except Johnson who replaces McGrath, who else ? SA has always blasted any spinner except Kumble-Warne-Murali. India has blasted all. Two of them - gone. And a long long period has to pass before SA & Sri Lanka (ageing Murali) face-off again. So...

  • keyur on December 22, 2008, 14:00 GMT

    @ Popcorn- I agree with you that australia has dominated cricket for the last decade or so. They have set standards for the others to match. They have had many greats during this period: a batsman who could come in at 7 and blast the opposition bowling away, a magical spinner and a very accurate pacer who believed they could defend just about any total among many other greats.

    But to say that the current team is still the dominant team in the world is to deny the truth: This year excluding bangladesh their record in tests is 4 losses(perth to india and sa and 2 in india), 3 wins(sydney vs. india [which would have been a draw if symonds had been given out in the first innings or ganguly or dravid notout in 4th innings] and 2 wins vs. nz.) and 3 draws.

  • Matthew on December 22, 2008, 13:44 GMT

    @popcorn. Pity it's all starting to go downhill eh? Remember the West Indies used to be the Australia of cricket. Not saying Aus will ever plumb the depths WI have but it's time for someone else to take over the mantle. Seriously, what I see on offer from the new Aus brigade is certainly not awe-inspiring. Also remember, a Pakistani is qualifying for us (for once) in April. Once we've got that wrist spin on board we'll have the best attack in world cricket.

  • Amol on December 22, 2008, 13:27 GMT

    1- History means Nothing. Let's live in today's real Present. If SA had thought of their horrible past against Oz while playing they would have lost at Perth.

    2- Maybe the phrase that fits here is: "Those who refuse learn from and turn a blind eye towards the Present have nothing to put blame on except themselves if the Future goes wrong." I mean, can't you see the difference between a one-off failure and a Beginning of an End ? For me anything less than Rank-2 for Oz. means their End.

    3- If there are any biased pitches ever made anywhere in any outdoor games then the MOST biased ones are made by Sri Lankan for cricket just suitable for Murali. I respect him but unlike Warne who had performed on ANY provided pitch - except against the Indians, Murali didn't. The Irony of it: Lankans calling Indians the tigers at... you know where.

    My heart says: SA 6-0 Oz. My head says: 2-1 in favour of SA - Away n Home. That won't be enough but atleast that will be a Start.

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