March 10, 2014

Let us now glory in Australia 2, South Africa 1

An Aussie verdict on the series. (Warning: may contain traces of Aussie gloating)

Ryan Harris: that disintegrating zombie can bowl © Getty Images

So, Australia 2, South Africa 1. Two highly competitive teams, three results on various and interesting cricket wickets, and proof positive that if you give ten million monkeys a typewriter then one of them will knock out a novel after this columnist predicted Australia 2, South Africa 1. The sun shines on a dog's bum sometimes, baby, as my recently rejuvenated betting account would tell you, albeit briefly.

Anyway! Crackerjack cricket series, decided in the long shadows of stumps on day five in Cape Town, five overs to go and the ball reversing to the tail and the wild Australian dogs surrounding the bat, yapping, as they are wont to do - more on it later. That, people, is top Test cricket, top cricket, period, and the South Africans relished the contest, as South Africans do, and nearly pulled off the mother of all stone draws. Arguably deserved too.

But the Aussies unarguably deserved the win, as dear departing Graeme Smith said. South Africa in South Africa is the testing material. Three top quicks. World-class bats. All-round aggression and smarts, the No. 1 Test team in the world and unbeaten at home in five years.

And the Aussies, across three tough Tests, kept on hitting them and hitting them like a hungry kid whacking a choc-filled piñata. There were several contributors. But two men channelled champions.

Dave Warner was Virender Sehwag. Trusted his eye, went hard at the ball, batted aggressively to his instincts and bashed the red rock. He scored 543 runs at 90.5 and scored them at 86.74 per 100. He's a brute, the Bull.

Brute? Mitchell Johnson was Jeff Thomson, at times, dropping the red rock back of a length and shooting it into the uncomfortable body parts of the South Africa batsmen. He took 22 wickets at 17.46 to go with his 37 at 14 against England. He's more dangerous than a backyard meth lab.

Dangerous? How about Hashim Amla's first ball, the one into the grill? How about that? The TV types replayed it 14 times, and each time it was like… yowza! That Amla went on to craft a nice innings and bat as he always does indicates the preternatural calm of a monk who's a ninja. He's a ripper, Hashim Amla.

But Ryan Harris was better. With chunks of man-meat and gristle banging around in his knee socket like a malevolent pinball of pain (or something), Harris dragged himself back to his mark, thundered in again and again, and delivered the candy - reverse-swinging dippers that were too good for Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, who, with their mate Vernon Philander, form a three-pronged phalanx of tough hombres.

Nathan Lyon? Did a job. Bowled tightly. Gave batters nothing. Picked up the odd wicket. As did Steve Smith, whose legspinners can rip like Warney's or land half-track like giant pavlovas. That Smith isn't sure which one's coming is part of the allure.

And Smith made runs. Great, fun runs. He's great to watch, Smith, and he's only 24, and there's a decade of getting better to come. Shaun Marsh made good runs, too, as did Alex Doolan. Chris Rogers? Held up an end while Warner carved. Brad Haddin? Not his series, at least with the willow.

Shane Watson did what Shane Watson does - average 30, take the odd wicket, look like Thor the God of Thunder in creams. Think they've got it right, batting Watson at six. Giving the quicks a rest and bowling straight makes Watson vice-captain and valuable.

Michael Clarke? The older he gets the more ornery he becomes. Seems to be turning into Allan Border. His mid-pitch confrontations with various types mightn't "look" good but are appreciated by his team. The leader standing up? In the tight-knit world of a dressing shed, that stuff's appreciated.

Faf du Plessis and the woofing thing? Yeah… not much one for the verbal send-off, me. Reckon if you've got a batter out, dance about, high-five and be happy, but you don't have to rub it in. Say what you want within reason (and there's the rub) on the field, that's part and parcel of "Test" cricket. And if you're a Test batsman who's upset by, y'know, rude words, then you're not a Test batsman. Du Plessis is a Test batsman and he wasn't upset by the woofing thing (apart from thinking rude Afrikaans words to describe the Australians), he was upset at getting out.

So yes, it's a little unseemly, and I agree to some degree with pundits who believe the Aussie team sometimes crosses the intangible "line", and that it's hard to always be proud of them. But it's not the worst thing, the verbal. You're not getting kicked out of the Moral Olympics for the verbal, there isn't gold for Being Nice. And international Test cricket is played by men, and men like playing the tough guy and in various ways posturing and posing and, yes, even woofing at other men. It is a Thing from Caveman Times.

As ten million typewriting monkeys could tell you.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here