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

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