Australia v South Africa, second Test, Melbourne, 2008-09 September 5, 2010

From hopelessness to neverland

South Africa's epochal series win in Australia had everything international sport should

Sports history and tradition "dictate" that older is better - most of the time, anyway. After 20 years of watching cricket for a living, and a few more before that in real life, there is a peculiar reluctance to acknowledge that the best might be very recent.

Having devoured every delivery of South Africa's December 2008 Test match against Australia in Perth, which resulted in the tourists chasing down 414 for victory, I fully expected to wait another 20 years to see something so special.

Instead, it came a week later.

Ricky Ponting's century on Boxing Day set Australia up for a total of 394, and by the close of play on day two South Africa were 198 for 7, a deficit of 196 with just three wickets intact. The situation was hopeless enough to be pathetic.

On the third morning JP Duminy, in his second Test, and Paul Harris added 67 for the eighth wicket to lighten the gloom but raise no hopes, let alone expectations. And then Duminy added 180 for the ninth wicket with Dale Steyn, who made a shudderingly impossible 76. It was like a never-ending journey into JM Barrie and Peter Pan's Never Land. Duminy scored 166, one of the greatest maiden centuries.

South Africa won by nine wickets shortly after lunch on the fifth day. Completely and unarguably silly. Impossible. Graeme Smith's team had become the first South Africans to win a series on Australian soil, and the first from anywhere for 16 years.

Four hours later, when they thought nobody was watching, they lurched around trying to catch seagulls on the outfield and never stopped hugging each other.

From beginning to end, it represented the drama, surprise and emotion that international sport is supposed to be all about. But only Test cricket can supply everything in such commodities. It took days for the hair to lie down again.

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • diren on September 7, 2010, 6:03 GMT

    One of the best series of all time. every test match was special and unforgetable . but the image that will stay in my memory for ever will be when Super smith came out with a broken hand to try and save SA......goose bump stuff!!!!!1

  • Milind on September 7, 2010, 0:50 GMT

    Steyn gets 76, SA chalks an improbable win. How come no one is talking bookies? Did the Aussies throw this one?

  • Shanthal on September 6, 2010, 15:31 GMT

    lol at Rover! Test series wins are rarely flukes... beating a team in your own backyard is much easier than beating them away... and don't forget AUS have lost away series to ENG, IND and SL since reigning in 1999... but only once at home. South Africa was the better side throughout and now their bowling is even better as they were supporting acts for Steyn in 2008. They possible were weighed down by expectations the second time around and don't forget, Australia won ALL 6 tosses and had the best of all conditions for each Test... and in SA, we clearly see that conditions are most condusive for results and in the 1st two, they received the worst of the conditions batting 4th and still managed to fight in the 2nd innings of both 1st Tests... and of-course had Smith not had his finger broken in Sydney on 30*... it seems pretty likely that South Africa could have escaped with a draw... although that would take away from that dramatic finish... was one of the BEST 3-Test Series ever!

  • Absar on September 6, 2010, 15:19 GMT

    @ Nuxxy : Author said maiden century, not debut century

  • aaditya on September 6, 2010, 12:04 GMT

    i think Mr. MartinAmber makes a lot of sense..really we need 5 match series between the better sides to make it more interesting and closer.currently only ashes is played over 5games (and SAvs ENG as well)..and lately the series hav been tighter(though only in england).i think if we hav other teams also playing bigger test series it will bring greater viewership and more quality..imagine ind vs aus,the 2 sides hav been playing 4 match series in the last 8 years..if u add one more game to these series,the series would come alive incredibly,bcoz all these were decided only in the final game.. dont understand the idea of playing 4 games ,it gives a feeling of emptiness.its neither a long series nor a short one..and when u talk about SA vs AUS,they play 6 tests in the same season,& in ths case the result was 3-3..if it was a continous series,it wud hav been one hell of a series..they shud actually keep the same format,3games in aus &3 in sa,but count the whole has just one series!!

  • rohit on September 6, 2010, 8:06 GMT

    Don't you think that it was hust a fluke thet SA managed to bet Aussies on that pertucular tour. They have never managed to beat Aussies when they were no. 1 side forget about away series but on their own conditions which only one team managed to do that was India. Don't forget that second string Aussie side beat them quiet convencingly when they tour SA. so i firmly believe that SA test series victory in Australia was just a fluke. They are chokers chokers & will remain chokers. sE WORLD CUP 2011 IN SUBCONTINENT.....

  • Ross on September 6, 2010, 7:49 GMT

    It was Duminy's second test match, so not a debut century.

  • Ashok on September 6, 2010, 3:31 GMT

    This article makes interesting reading, but Mr. Manthorp has not mentioned the context. Having followed the game closely since 14 years now, I was able to put the win in contaxt, but anyone who hasn't followed South African cricket since the 90s will never understand quite why that series was so special.

  • J Ranjith on September 6, 2010, 0:17 GMT

    some fan from Aus had been commenting in India matches continuously that Indians talk about excuses always whenever their team loses, but what I see here from Aussie fans is that they blame their bowling for not taking tail wickets and not appreciating how Duminy and SA players played to defeat Aussies. I know am pathetic to bring this point here and I'm not blaming these fans' comments here either but I need to make a point that fans would react differently as to how they feel and someone cannot simply blame everything on Indians when same things happen everywhere. And, coming to the comments here, Ishant and Duminy have not been lost yet and they are still young to achieve greatness. How often do people start chasing youngsters in every match saying that you are not great. If so, what can we say about Mike Hussey? People do not become great in few good series and do not get rubbish after few bad series, it is enduring perseverance for success for longer periods that makes them Great.

  • Billy on September 5, 2010, 21:29 GMT

    Something Witty, yes Australia's bowling attack was terrible throughout this series and yet still managed to be in winning positions throughout all three tests. The bowling continues to struggles to close out an innings, conceding partnerships in the lower order. This is where McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and Warne were so good, being able to clean up the tail at a quicker rate. The Ashes this summer could well be won by the team with the better performing tail, and so Australia must fix this problem of theirs soon.

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