Writers on the best day, session or passage of play they've seen live

Australia v South Africa, second Test, Melbourne, 2008-09

From hopelessness to neverland

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

Neil Manthorp

September 5, 2010

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

Morne Morkel, Graeme Smith, Mike Procter and Dale Steyn savour the victory, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 5th day, December 30, 2008
Still sober, before they took to lurching around the outfield, hugging each other © PA Photos
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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

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Posted by diri 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

Posted by mk49_van 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?

Posted by Shash28 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!

Posted by thestunner316_15 on (September 6, 2010, 15:19 GMT)

@ Nuxxy : Author said maiden century, not debut century

Posted by addiemanav 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!!

Posted by rovar 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.....

Posted by Nuxxy on (September 6, 2010, 7:49 GMT)

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

Posted by muzika_tchaikovskogo 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.

Posted by Jim1207 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.

Posted by BillyCC 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.

Posted by MartinAmber on (September 5, 2010, 20:45 GMT)

I thought Andy Zaltzman got it right at the time, when he said something like "put the two SA v Aus series together and you'd have something to rival 2005, 1981 or 1960/61". Like others, I thought it was magnificent, but two things sadden me about it. 1) At the time and for months afterwards, there was seemingly endless talk about how Test cricket was "dying" and needed to be spiced up with all sorts of naff ideas. It was as if these pundits had completely forgotten both SA v Aus series, as well as the Mumbai Test between England and India. Really annoying. 2) The fact that only England and Australia play 5 Test series: 3 Test series can be great (as here) but it's a shame the plot wasn't allowed to develop over 5 Tests. That's why Zaltzman's remark was so perceptive.

Posted by addiemanav on (September 5, 2010, 19:43 GMT)

it was a fabulous series..its interesting that the greatest series played in the last 10 years have seen australia lose..it actually says a lot abt OZ domination that when they were winning everyone took it for granted,but anytime there was a tough series people stood and noticed!!this one was something, special..it was after 15years somebody beat australia in their backyard.i never felt SA could do it..1st game,they had to chase 415,nobody gave them a chance,but a superb 100 from smith set the tone & they shocked with a win..next game,as the writer mentioned,SA were on backfoot on day2.but steyn & duminy got along..it was unbelievable..steyn kept hitting the ball all-over &managed to stay on the wicket..u felt it was about time that he will throw his wkt,but it never came..eventually a crucial 60 run lead and another firey spell from 'steyn-gun' made history possible..amzing match..but sydney followed,& OZ came back to hav a consolation win,although 'broken' smith tried very hard!

Posted by manasvi_lingam on (September 5, 2010, 19:09 GMT)

Duminy promised much; I remember Ian Chappell rating him on par with the likes of Lara. Instead, he has completely fallen apart and de Villiers (another fine performer in the series) has surged ahead and ahead.

Posted by cricktah on (September 5, 2010, 19:03 GMT)

Hey Nadeem1976, we say that Pak vs Aus in Sydney was fixed not because a tailender scored lots of runs but because there is evidence to suggest that Pak fixed the game! lol!

Posted by   on (September 5, 2010, 15:49 GMT)

even if SA wins the world cup, this series would remain as the best i've ever watched. i took leave to college to watch the final day of the boxing day test which SA won and claimed the series. i also took leave for the 5th ODI to watch SA taking the trophy and end an probably the most successful and satisfying tour of all time. i'm an indian but i'm an follower of SA. i'm supporting SA for almost 14 years. this series was an excellent team effort... just can't forget those memories quite similar to the 438 game at jo'burg...

Posted by jakecricfan on (September 5, 2010, 12:47 GMT)

So, is it even reasonable to say, stars made in Australia - Beware and be in better control of your game! Ishant, Duminy are great examples of superstars from Oz who never really saw too many ups after that.

Posted by   on (September 5, 2010, 12:16 GMT)

even if SA wins the world cup, i will still say that this series is the best i've watched. i took leave for college on the 5th day of the boxing day test to watch the SA win the test match... i also took leave for the 5th ODI to watch the south africans take the odi series as well... i'll never ever forget this series... simply superb allround team performance by SA in this whole tour... i'm an indian but i like SA very much than the indian cricket team. i'm supporting SA for almost 12 years now.....

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (September 5, 2010, 7:28 GMT)

Are we going to call it a fixed match again becuase tailender scored more than 250 runs. Same thing happened in Sydney this year. If Sydney was fixed then SA vs Aus was fixed too.

Why becuase after that series JP Duminy never able to play a single big innings. and styen is not good enough batsman.

What i am saying that some teams can win from a losing position and some not . But same time it was australia involved.

Becuase its SA vs AUS , we will call it a great game and when come to Pak vs AUS we will call it a fixed match. No no no. Cricket is always win by batting and bowling not betting always.

Give credit to all great sportsmen who always tried their best till the end and some time once in a blue moon win matches from hopless positions. Thats called greatness. Not match fixing.

Posted by   on (September 5, 2010, 7:03 GMT)

Yes,this series changed my sleep patterns forever! I remember Brett Procters (commentator from S.A) excitement and apparently breaking a pencil as a drive skimmed over mid off. Winning away from home is always special despite gripes from the locals.Test cricket is the ultimate pinnacle of the game.However lets not compare limited overs to tests.In its own form the abbreviated game has provided many glorius moments and is transforming all the time.Lets celebrate test cricket at ts best as the finest sport in the world and limited overs as its little brother.

Posted by GlobalCricketLover on (September 5, 2010, 6:58 GMT)

even as an indian i watched almost every bit i could of that series. it was a fascinating series worth watching every minute of it. ofcourse, would have been great if smith/ntini had survived the last overs of the last test. there is no end to greediness, isn't it? :)

Posted by _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on (September 5, 2010, 6:24 GMT)

Yup certainly one of the best I've watched. That 180 run partnership by a series debutant, who never kicked on and a fast bowler was a partnership of share determination and a will to fight to the very end. It resulted in a well earned victory and now I feel anything is possible in test cricket lol.

Posted by Woody111 on (September 5, 2010, 4:03 GMT)

As an Aussie it was a heartbreaking series to watch and listen to but one of the best. Such series highlight how wonderful test cricket is and how the emotion, unpredictability and excitement can never be replicated by limited overs rubbish. Duminy was incredible and promised amazing things; much like Ishant Sharma did in the same summer. Even when what you see from players doesn't necessarily lead to continued greatness, nothing takes away from the magic that you get to witness at the isolated point in time. South Africa richly deserved the success and accolades they received for a period of time when they were the best test team in the world. I can only hope the upcoming Ashes produces such entertaining cricket.

Posted by Something_Witty on (September 5, 2010, 3:40 GMT)

I still shudder when I think of this series. Our bowling attack was less penetrative than a spoon. With a broken down Brett Lee nearing the end of his career, a barely-capped Siddle just learning the ropes and Mitchell Johnson still very inexperienced. Then add in a spinner who leaked runs at close to 5 an over... ack.

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Neil ManthorpClose
Neil Manthorp Neil Manthorp is a writer and broadcaster based in Cape Town where he started the independent sports news agency MWP Media in 1992. He has covered more than 40 tours and 120 Test matches since South Africa's return to international cricket and Zimbabwe's elevation to Test status. A regular commentator for SABC radio, Neil has also joined the host radio teams in West Indies, New Zealand, Australia and England - where he preferred Test Match Special's pork pies to their chocolate cake. He recently completed Gary Kirsten's biography.

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