Partnerships and Smith win it for SA
Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini's defiance on a deteriorating pitch in Sydney summed up the story of the series. South Africa almost snatched a draw in the final Test after Australia had them on the ropes, and the home team, despite having held the initiative in the first innings - as they did in the greater part of the first two tests - came close to squandering yet another winning opportunity. The tail wagged for both teams - more so for Australia - but a far superior performance by South Africa's top-order proved decisive in the outcome, as Australia lost their first home series in over 16 years.
Australia's last four wickets have averaged 29 per partnership since the start of 2008 - the highest for any team. They bettered that in this series, averaging 34.25 for the last four wickets, but the first six averaged just five runs more, at 39.76. For South Africa, however, the figures are markedly different - 32 for the last four wickets and 50.20 for the first six.
South Africa's top-order were involved in six out of seven century-stands - JP Duminy and Dale Steyn's match-turning partnership of 180 for the ninth-wicket in Melbourne being the only one from their lower order - with four of them coming in fourth-innings chases. Australia managed just three century-stands, with all of them coming in the first innings. From 2000 to 2007, the average partnership per dismissal for visiting teams in Australia was 27.25, with Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath doing much of the damage. That figure has gone up to 34.77 - South Africa managed 44 this series - since the start of last year.
|Team||Overall||For Wickets 1-6||100s/50s||For Wickets 7-10||100s/50s|
Australia dominated New Zealand in 2008, but struggled to dismantle the Indian lower-order earlier in the year when Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh batted well with Sachin Tendulkar to average 31.47 for the last four wickets. However, they won both those series with their bowling spearhead Brett Lee proving most effective, taking 30 wickets at 23.83. His performance this series, though, was abysmal as he conceded 249 runs for a solitary wicket in the first two Tests. Mitchell Johnson, who averaged 34.5 in his first four Test series, including 40.07 in India, replaced Lee as Australia's lead bowler, taking 17 wickets at 25.88, and was well supported by Peter Siddle, who took eight of his 13 wickets - he averaged 27.38 - in Sydney.
Barring Lee's flop and Jason Krezja's 1 for 204 in the first Test in Perth, there was not much to choose between the bowling attacks of the two teams. In a high-scoring series, Dale Steyn led the tally for South Africa with 18 wickets at 26.16. But fellow fast bowlers Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini conceded 42.66 and 50 runs apiece. Jacques Kallis was a touch more effective with seven wickets at 38.70 but it was Lee's slump that made the difference in how the two attacks fared.
|Team||Wickets||Average||Strike Rate||Economy rate|
|South Africa (overall)||54||36.55||66.4||3.30|
|South Africa (first two Tests)||40||32.40||59||3.29|
|Australia (first two Tests)||25||51.12||98.4||3.11|
Australia conceded 44 runs for each wicket - their second-worst bowling performance at home in 16 years - and their batsmen, who often backed them up when their efforts were below-par, failed this time, averaging a relatively low 37.72 per wicket - It's only the second time since their defeat to West Indies in 1992 that Australia's batting average has fallen below their bowling.
|Team||Overall||First Innings||Second Innings|
The outcome of the series was also a consequence of individual successes and failures, with the performances of Jacques Kallis and Michael Hussey - both struggled in 2008 - playing a pivotal role. Kallis peaked at the right time, scoring fifties in each innings in Perth and taking six wickets in the first two Tests, while Hussey, whose batting average has fallen from 80.58 to 59.36 since the start of last year, managed just 10 runs in his first four innings, including two ducks. Matthew Hayden continued his poor run, averaging 19.50 in six innings, while Hashim Amla - he averaged 25.50 in his first 15 Tests and 57.10 in his next 19 - was South Africa's second-highest run-getter in the series, including a valuable half-century in his team's successful chase of 414 in the first Test.
|Batsman||Before 2008 (Runs and Average)||In 2008 before the series||Series|
|Jacques Kallis||9282 at 58.01||519 at 28.83||187 at 37.40|
|Michael Hussey||1934 at 80.58||890 at 44.50||85 at 17|
|Hashim Amla||1042 at 32.56||1012 at 53.26||259 at 51.80|
|Matthew Hayden||8003 at 53||505 at 38.84||117 at 19.50|
Graeme Smith's inspiring effort in trying to save the Sydney Test showed how much he deserved to be to the Man of the Series; his century in the fourth innings of the Perth Test set the tone for a record win, and he followed that up with a half-century in South Africa's run-chase in Melbourne - his 919 runs in fourth-innings victories is the highest for any batsman. AB de Villiers and Duminy were the other stars with the bat - both average above 60 - while Neil McKenzie was inconsistent after performing well for much of 2008. Michael Clarke was the highest run-getter this series with 383 at 76.60, including a maiden ton at the SCG. Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich, and Brad Haddin each averaged close to 50 but Australia let their guard down in their second innings of the first two Tests, losing the first seven wickets for an average of 171 runs.
South Africa's top-order made Lee struggle, and while they took runs off Johnson, they were not able to dominate him. Johnson won the contest with Jacques Kallis dismissing him thrice, as well as Graeme Smith, who was bowled by him at the death in Sydney.
Ten of Steyn's 18 wickets comprised the top five. He dismissed Katich and Hayden thrice, and Hussey twice in the first two Tests. However, Johnson took him for 55 runs at over four-an-over, while Ntini struggled against the Australian top-order, especially Ponting.
|Graeme Smith||Brett Lee||68||124||0||-|
|Hashim Amla||Brett Lee||47||57||1||47|
|AB de Villiers||Brett Lee||28||68||0||-|
|Graeme Smith||Mitchell Johnson||82||102||3||27.33|
|Hashim Amla||Mitchell Johnson||63||122||1||63.00|
|Jacques Kallis||Mitchell Johnson||30||103||3||10.00|
|JP Duminy||Mitchell Johnson||52||122||3||17.33|
|Graeme Smith||Peter Siddle||65||125||1||65.00|
|Hashim Amla||Peter Siddle||74||135||0||-|
|Mark Boucher||Peter Siddle||17||55||3||5.66|
|Simon Katich||Dale Steyn||88||152||3||29.33|
|Matthew Hayden||Dale Steyn||58||107||3||19.33|
|Michael Clarke||Dale Steyn||74||112||2||37.00|
|Ricky Ponting||Makhaya Ntini||76||75||1||76|
|Mitchell Johnson||Dale Steyn||55||71||2||27.50|
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo