December 29, 2008

Stephen Gelb

South Africa is the new Australia

Stephen Gelb



What a day! I don’t remember enjoying a day’s cricket as much since Laxman and Dravid stuck it to Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001.

In South Africa, we tend to exaggerate both the lows and the highs (and not just on the sports field). After last week’s fantastic chase at Perth, many here indulged in typical hyperbole, calling it South Africa’s ‘best ever’ Test win. That’s way over the top – what about the series-clinching Day 5 at Edgbaston only 6 months ago? Or Sydney 1994? Or Faisalabad in 1997, our first series win in Asia? Not to mention quite a few matches in the 1960s and earlier.

If we win this Melbourne Test (or next week’s at Sydney), it will instantly become our best ever win - our first series win in Australia. If Melbourne and Sydney both turn out to be draws, then I’ll agree - Perth is our best ever. And today went an awfully long way to making a Melbourne draw possible, indeed likely.

As everybody knows, Australia is South Africa’s bete noire. I won’t rehearse our losses here (nor our ties….). That’s why the ‘438’ ODI was our best cricket moment of the decade, at least up to 2008. Our repeated losses to Australia are so painful partly because they are usually better at being South African than we ourselves are. That is, they’re better at the ‘braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet’ thing, the sports-mad outdoor life produced by our mix of Anglo-American colonial influence and pioneer-farmer mythology. It may be just one way to be South African, but it’s still a very popular one.

In this culture, prowess on the field far outweighs anything in the lab, at the theatre or on the bestseller lists. So being second best to Australia in cricket and rugby has been hugely disappointing. We couldn’t even beat them at football, our most popular sport but probably only number nine or ten over there. (We managed a draw.) Australia even exports more proteas than we do. That’s our national flower, dammit!!

So day 3 was fantastic. Everything went right for South Africa, everything went wrong for Australia. Okay, everything but one - they didn’t lose a wicket in their short batting stint. But never has Australia looked so thoroughly disorganised, so hang-dog and so shell-shocked on a cricket field, certainly never against South Africa.

It was all the sweeter because of where we started the day. South African cricket is famous for never giving up without a fight to the last ball, and for batting deep into the tail. And it’s also famous for doing what happened yesterday - digging itself deep into the sort of hole that creates opportunities to display these two qualities. So today wasn’t a total surprise.

But there was also a sense today of something different, something new.

Partly it’s because the star today was a black player in only his second test, and in the side unquestionably on merit. Even though black players have performed superbly for South Africa for more than a decade, it’s still argued by some that affirmative action helped them into the side in the first place. Not Duminy.

Partly it’s because none of the four players who added 261 runs today came entirely out of the South African cricket establishment. Harris and Steyn had the advantages of growing up white but went to middle-ranking schools, as did Duminy, while Ntini emerged from a remote poverty-stricken area before his bowling won him a scholarship to an elite school.

But in the end it felt different because we were the ones with a ‘system’, replacing a stalwart like Prince with a reserve like Duminy while Andrew Symonds hopped about and Shane Watson fielded for Lee but couldn’t bowl for him. We were the ones with skills, scoring at a good rate while the Aussies dropped catches and conceded overthrows. And we were the ones with confidence, taking advantage of Aussie disarray to bat them right out of the match and probably the series, while they (dare I say it?) ‘choked’, unable to ram home the huge edge they started with this morning.

In fact, we were the Australians out there today. And perhaps, maybe, possibly, in a little more than a week South Africa will be the new Australia – number one in the world, on merit.

Footnote: braaivleis = barbeque, and 'Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and chevrolet' was a very popular advertising jingle in South Africa in the 1980s, which captured a certain ethos....

RSS Feeds: Stephen Gelb

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Aussie Fan on (December 30, 2008, 22:06 GMT)

Folk's i agree that RSA played good cricket however they cannot be Australia. Dont write of Aussies they will bounce back.

Posted by PMSF on (December 30, 2008, 12:08 GMT)

Tank - I can't agree with you more! It's been a fine performance by a fine group of cricketers.

Posted by arvind on (December 30, 2008, 11:38 GMT)

To say that the current South African team has all the components of being a force to racken with in the times to come, will not be an exaggeration. One should, however abstain from comparing them to the aussies as a stark contrast is apparent in the way the two teams approach the game.The game requires popular champions rather than what it has had in the past decade in the form of Australia.The Proteas, on the other hand have gone through a rather prolonged period of frustration and disappointment in spite of always challenging the oz empire for abt a decade and a half.The game thoroughly deserves them as the next champs.

Posted by Braam Coetzee on (December 30, 2008, 8:01 GMT)

I wonder what is going through the minds of guys like Rodney Hogg, who said Jacques Kallis is a flat-track-bully.

Rodney, wake up and smell the roses. Big Jacques has again stepped up the plate when it was expected of him to do so.

He has so far in his career scored 1334 runs, and has taken 41 wickets against Australia.

By the way Rodney, he has scored against the following Minnow Nations

v West Indies 2073 v England 1516 v New Zealand 1356 v Australia 1334 v Pakistan 1149 v India 884 v Zimbabwe 679 v Sri Lanka 639 v Bangladesh 317

By the way Rodney, you said when you face a gang, you should target the bully……….

It seems that the Aussies couldn’t figure out who the bully is this time

WHITEWASH coming up

Posted by John on (December 30, 2008, 7:05 GMT)

But never has Australia looked so thoroughly disorganised, so hang-dog and so shell-shocked on a cricket field, certainly never against South Africa. Well I was around to watch Aus in 1970 in RSA and they came mighty close to looking totally rudderless

Posted by Brownedog from Brisbane on (December 30, 2008, 6:51 GMT)

I forgot to put my details on my post. My comments included "hats off to the Proteas"

Posted by Anonymous on (December 30, 2008, 6:50 GMT)

I must applaud the South Africans for the way they have played down under. They have been dominated in the early stages of both tests but have fought back in both games to secure deserved wins. Yes the Aussies are not going too well, and yes it is time to rebuild and introduce some new blood. Duminy was a name that not many Aussies had heard of before the test, but one the whole world will surely take note of as his career develops. We have had a few injuries and we are just about to lose a few greats, but as an Aussie I can honestly say that this is a team we wouldn't mind losing the mantle to (not that we have lost it yet and we are hoping not to). There are so many similarities between the former great Aussie team and the current Proteas, and I love the way they have gone about their job on and off the field. Hats off to the Proteas but stick in there you Aussie fans, we will be back!

Posted by lucky malabie on (December 29, 2008, 19:27 GMT)

a dawn of a new era for the ozies. its strange that the brilliance of SA is bieng overshadowed by the poor performing Ausies. more should be said about the young impressive SA side. beating the Oz on their back yard is the best wayfor SA to end the year especially after long years of torment. I am loving this part of history in the making. well done SA.

Posted by Tank on (December 29, 2008, 17:26 GMT)

I long for the day when any-one writing about South African sport can do so without mentioning colour.

Posted by StaalBurgher on (December 29, 2008, 17:15 GMT)

I wouldn't go so far as to say that SA is the new Australia. The Oz team that included Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist and co was something special that will likely not be equalled for a while. SA has outplayed Oz but they will remain a credible threat to any team in the world. England shouldn't snicker about anything. I still back Oz to beat England in the Ashes. SA beat England, in England, without Steyn and with Ntini and Morkel only bowling at 75%, albeit their batsmen did exceptionally well. If England couldn't defeat SA then how are they going to defeat Australia who, let's not forget please, gave SA a stern challenge and were overpowered by a truly exceptional South African performance.

Comments have now been closed for this article