Akhila Ranganna: Hello and welcome to Cricinfo Talk. I have with me former South African batsman Daryll Cullinan to look back on the Cape Town Test.
Daryll, a big win for South Africa, despite some last minute jitters - a strong rearguard action from Australia. Seeing the way they performed in the first two Tests, did you think such a turnaround was possible, especially given the off-the-field drama preceding this Test? What would you attribute it to?
Daryll Cullinan: I think the off-the-field drama for South Africa is something that they are quite used to; I don't think it would bother them too much. But in terms of new combinations, guys making their debut and also with a guy like Ashwell Prince batting out of position, it would be fine to believe that they would have felt a bit unsettled coming into this Test. But they played with a lot of purpose and determination. Their skills were good and they managed to post a really big first-innings score that set up this Test beautifully for them. Let's not forget that there was a lot to play for. One can look at it - as Australia did conveniently when they lost Down Under - that as a six-match series. To level it all at three-all, you could say was a true reflection on the quality of the cricket played and where each team is in terms of their Test cricket.
I think South Africa were helped by an Australian side that really battled to get going. It seems that with the series won they couldn't quite pull it together in terms of their intensity and their desire to win. It has looked that way and it often is with a side that has won that series to pick themselves up to try and win the Test last.
AR: The Australians looked a tired team ... did having to play back-to-back Tests series and losing Marcus North factor in?
DC: I think so. They have played a lot of cricket; their bowling attack had to really work hard for this series win, and it was a real problem for them in terms of their ability to keep things going. That's just the way schedule works these days. Unfortunately it is very taxing on the players. Having said that, it was probably their poor innings with the bat in the first innings; having won the toss that really put them under pressure.
AR: Looking at the action today, Australia were clearly intent on playing the waiting game and after not getting a wicket in the first hour, it appeared that South Africa were also going to take a similar approach. In the light of that do you think Simon Katich's dismissal was the turning point of the day?
DC: It probably was. He had battled for a long time, but credit to South Africa, they bowled well. They really restricted Australia in the first session: Australia in fact just scored 40 runs in that session. So you had the idea that it was South Africa's intention that they were really going to let Australia go nowhere. And just the constant pressure eventually got to Katich and he played a loose stroke. But Australia battled on top of that to get partnerships going, to really somebody in. The top order, probably besides, Michael Clarke and Katich battled to spend time there.
AR: With the opening combination not firing, and JP Duminy not reproducing his Australia heroics, there was a lot of pressure on the South Africa middle order; someone had to step up and AB de Villiers has clearly been the star of their batting this series. Is this series a turning point for him in his career?
DC: He has worked very hard at trying to move on from the idea that he is a very attacking sort of player who at times throws his wicket away and tries to play too many shots. He has played over 50 Tests now and he is trying to ensure that his defensive qualities are good; that he is able to build an innings and bat for long periods and be very patient and not allow himself to get carried away in terms of playing shots because he has all the strokes. And you can see that this plan is coming together for him. He has worked incredibly hard, built an innings and he played very well. So it this series could be a turning point in terms of where he goes in his cricket. He has stated his intentions of wanting to be the best player in the world and if he continues to go about particularly with the mental approach - there's no doubt that there is a maturation in terms of his mental approach to his batting - we look forward to him potentially getting big runs on a consistent basis. That is what he needs to do: he really needs to raise his consistency.
AR: Australia have shown that after despite their debacle at home against South Africa, its unwise to write them off. What are the areas you think they still need to work on? A couple of points - with the Ashes coming up, does Andrew McDonald really look a long-term prospect? What about spinners - is it just better to go with Katich and Michael Clarke instead of fielding a spinner who may not be up to the mark?
|"South Africa's ability to set the pace and find a balance between attacking cricket and defensive cricket probably revealed that they are not quite there in terms of their Test cricket. But it has ended what has been a fantastic period for the last 12 to 18 months for South Africa in Test cricket and one feels that they can only build on it from here"|
DC: Australia will need to find a spinner. Katich and Clarke are really part-time spinners. They haven't found one in Bryce McGain in this Test. They may turn to Nathan Hauritz. Mitchell Johnson with the bat, getting a hundred today has shown that he perhaps has the ability to bat more up the order, so he could easily perform the role that McDonald could in the side. Those are their key areas. They need to make sure that their top order is firing; their opening pair gets them off to a good start on a regular basis otherwise that exposes the likes of Ricky Ponting, Clarke and Michael Hussey to the new ball a bit too early. Hussey's form is of concern. He has not had a good series, struggling to average over 20 in the last six Tests against South Africa. But you feel with the likes of Brett Lee, Shane Watson and Stuart Clark on the way back that Australia, while they have a few concerns, don't have major concerns. It's just a question of playing better cricket. But the search is still on to find a quality spinner who can at least do a job where he can hold an end up which we saw Paul Harris do brilliantly in this Test.
AR: A word on Harris. He has been essentially used by Graeme Smith as holding option at one end, but with this performance in this Test, do you think he has sealed a berth for himself in the playing XI?
DC: Well there were question marks over his continued presence in the side. Lots felt that it was perhaps time to have a look at Johan Botha as a spinning option because he offers you batting depth and is a good fielder. But Harris found a good length and I think it was the most impressive thing about his performance at Newlands. It is the most consistent length that I have seen him bowl in his time for South Africa and the gentle breeze at Newlands helped in providing him some good drift through the air and his pace variance was good. I think he has held onto his spot for some time to come but it couldn't have come at a better time for him and all credit to him.
AR: The No. 1 rank has eluded South Africa yet again - has this series put their emphatic victory in Australia in perspective?
DC: I think it has. They came from behind in two Tests in Australia and managed to pull it off in a fashion which you don't often see in Test cricket. I think their big disappointment was the way they came into this series and really battled in the first two Tests. Perhaps it raises questions over their ability to play the right sort of attacking cricket when they are ahead. They went to Australia as underdogs, pulled off a series win. The series was over here and then they pulled off a win in the third Test. Their ability to set the pace and find a balance between attacking cricket and defensive cricket probably revealed that they are not quite there in terms of their Test cricket. But it has ended what has been a fantastic period for the last 12 to 18 months for South Africa in Test cricket and one feels that they can only build on it from here.
But they will need to look at their bowling depth. They will need to consolidate that opening position with Prince and Graeme Smith. The careers of the likes of Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher are probably coming to an end, so what is the succession plan in terms of those two? Makhaya Ntini has started to show the effects of age. They have their concerns but I think they will look back over what they have achieved in the last 12 to 18 months with great pride. But credit to Australia. They just hung on to that No. 1 ranking and credit to their cricket, having had a tough series at home they have come back here and shown that you can never ever take an Australia side or their cricket for granted,.
AR: Thank you Daryll for your views throughout this series.