Rob Steen
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Sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

South Africa v Australia? Now that's tasty

The two teams have been eyeballing each other since South Africa returned to international cricket. Theirs is the best rivalry today because it is a battle of wills

Rob Steen

November 16, 2011

Comments: 63 | Text size: A | A

Dale Steyn successfully appeals for Shaun Marsh's wicket, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 1st day, November 9, 2011
Dale Steyn: in the ionosphere while the rest battle it out in the troposphere © AFP

"And we are twins in spirit
No matter which route home we take
Or what we forsake"
(Joni Mitchell, "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter")

Tokyo 1990, and James "Buster" Douglas has just pulled off the biggest shock in the annals of professional boxing, all but melting "Iron Mike" Tyson. Never one to stint on the theatrical flourishes, Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen used to introduce the late Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, his vast saxophone-toting sidekick, as "the Dean of Mean, the Master of Disaster"; Tyson was the Master of Mean, the Deliverer of Disaster, the postman who never stopped ringing. Yet Douglas, a 100-1 shot in a two-horse race, had knocked him down and out, ripping the heavyweight crown off the head of its most fearsome owner.

Larry Merchant clambered into the ring, thrust a microphone under the new champion's swollen, sweat-drenched features and asked the question on everyone's lips, albeit not quite in the manner anticipated. "Why did this happen, James?" The reply was unhesitating, matter-of-fact: "Because I wanted it."

Those words came back to me time and again during last week's Cape Town wicket-fest. First, Michael Clarke wrested the initiative from South Africa, because, over the decades and centuries, Australians have wanted it more than any other cricketing nation has wanted it. He imposed his will. Cue Shane Watson, who wants to succeed Jacques Kallis as the planet's finest, because, like Kallis, he has to be the best, needs to be the best, to give his life meaning. He wanted it so much, he sent back five men in 21 balls. Then Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel wanted it so much, they left Australia within one false shot of the greatest indignity of all - succeeding New Zealand as authors of the most pitiful Test innings of all. Chokers, us? Coming from a batsman whose technique would have sunk a thousand other careers had it not been reinforced by a heart of steel, Graeme Smith's match-winning hundred felt preordained. Just as Sonny Liston had glowered Floyd Patterson into submission at the weigh-in for their first one-rounder in 1962, South Africa's captain stared down his less-seasoned opposite number; bent on ending his career on a high, he was never going to be the one who flinched first.

At length, nevertheless, having factored in the vagaries of a demanding but far from invincible pitch - one that would doubtless have earned censure had it been in Sri Lanka and the spinners had done the dastardly deeds - I decided that what it was actually all about was us addicts, we for whom cricket is, quite frankly, far too big a fix. We wanted it. We willed it.

HEAVEN KNOWS WE DESERVED IT. A fortnight ago, one national captain and two of the game's finest bowlers were sentenced to jail for reasons too depressingly familiar to bear repeating. A month ago, England were behaving like victory-spoiled brats in India, and Haroon Lorgat was announcing that the World Test Championship would almost certainly not take place until 2017 (confirmation came this Monday): the ICC's broadcasting pals, it appears, are considerably keener on another Champions Trophy, an event for which Indian participation could be guaranteed.

A week ago, Paul Kelso of the Daily Telegraph elicited some deeply pessimistic views about the game's future from Giles Clarke, chairman of the ECB (if I were the England and Wales Cricket Board, I'd ditch that acronym, partly to inject the necessary Welshness, mostly to distance myself from all those rotten bankers). On the same day, one of my students, Jason Mennell, a talented young Zimbabwean, revealed some decidedly dodgy doings at the Thailand Cricket Association, doings that, given what we already know about how ICC funding has been abused in the USA and Zimbabwe (and probably Kenya too), may be increasingly common the further you go down the pyramid. In short, finding nice things to say about flannelled foolishness is rapidly becoming about as tricky as lamenting Silvio Berlusconi's resignation.

India v Pakistan is about sibling rivalry; ditto Australia v New Zealand, England v Australia - or England v Anyone for that matter - is strictly Oedipal. India v Australia may have sparked the loudest rows in recent memory, but for sheer bite and edge, Australia v South Africa is now the daddy

As ever, it took that budding dinosaur, the five-day play, to pierce the gloom. Zimbabwe all but chased down 366 against New Zealand in Bulawayo, going for broke even as wickets crashed. In Delhi, West Indies required just 40 overs to capture 10 not-so-little Indians, whereupon VVS Laxman hoisted his average in successful chases beyond 100. Then came Newlands and cricket that whisked the breath away, hid it in a closet and locked the door. If sport's greatest gift is to make us gawp in wonder, this month has supplied a down payment on the debt for all that angst.

In terms of gobsmackability, I can recall witnessing just three occasions comparable to that madcap second day at Newlands, Anglo-Caribbean affairs all. Exhibit 1: Port-of-Spain, March 29, 1994, England ambushed and Ambrosed as the West Indian empire roared its fading roar. Exhibit 2: Lord's, June 30, 2000 - 76.1 overs, 21 wickets, the first Test day ever to span four innings. Exhibit 3 soon followed: Headingley, August 18 - England recover from 124 for 6, 48 behind, grit out a lead of 100 then skittle Lara and Co for 61: all over in two days. Wickets clattering with gay abandon, triggered by irresistible bowling rather than irredeemable batting: now that's cricket, or at least cricket at its most mesmeric.

NEWLANDS, TOO, WITNESSED the start, end or entirety of four separate innings. That four decisions were reversed on review was a rousing vindication of the much-maligned, immaculately imperfect DRS (that out-of-range Hot Spot signal, mind, really was a horrid cock-up). Twenty-three wickets, the most in a Test day since 1902, and barely a murmur about the umps. What twilight zone is this?

Even so, what my internal hard drive will hoard longest is the day before. When Dale Steyn showed why he is head, shoulders and midriff above his peers, by a distance no bowler has opened up since SF Barnes nigh on a century ago. When Clarke looked more like a coconut shy than a national leader yet summoned his inner growl to counter-attack with such exquisite elegance, it was exceedingly hard to believe he was in the same continent, much less the same expanse of grass. When the more Steyn snarled the softer Clarke smiled (let him demean his own efforts all he likes, the rest of us know how special they were). When Australian and South African went toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball.

The Boss was wrong. We weren't born to run, we were born to confront. Issues, problems, parents, colleagues, rivals - but mostly ourselves. And confront is what Australia and South Africa, when they occupy the same cricket field, do better, more spine-tinglingly, than other contemporary duellists. Toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball.

India v Pakistan is all about sibling rivalry; ditto, to a less toxic extent, Australia v New Zealand, England v Australia - or England v Anyone for that matter - is strictly Oedipal. India v Australia, a pair of playground bullies locking fists, may have sparked the loudest rows in recent memory, but for sheer bite and edge, Australia v South Africa is now the daddy: it's sibling rivalry, Jim, but so much more than that.

Every series, every match, is a spiritual tug of war, a right royal scrap between fierce but fallible wills. In the first four Test series after South Africa's re-entry, the scores (Australia first) were 1-1, 1-1, 2-1 and 0-0; the two rubbers prior to this were mirror images - 2-1 to South Africa in Australia, 2-1 to Australia in South Africa. Australia have won 12 of the last 24 ODIs, South Africa 12; after eight T20s, the score is 4-4. Even when 18 men fell in those crazy 23 overs at Newlands, they split the spoils down the middle. Parallels are hard to trace. Even when West Indies and Pakistan were slugging it out in the '80s - three drawn series and a 1-0 squeak to Viv and Co, who edged the conclusive Tests four to three - the former dominated the one-day debates. Back to another North American troubador with poetic inclinations, Joni Mitchell: "They dare not look away, you know they dare not look away."

Of late, however, the Aussies have tended to blink first: Herschelle Gibbs' fearless assault at the Wanderers in 2006 as the hosts chased down 435; those nerveless last-innings stands by Smith and Hashim Amla in Perth three years ago and in Cape Town last Friday; the 180-run ninth-wicket alliance between JP Duminy and Steyn that transformed the 2008 Boxing Day Test. Have the South Africans truly, finally, drawn a line under that 1999 World Cup semi-final, the bout that more or less defined ebb and flow?

That evenness reflects the similarities. White Australians and white South Africans are not only brothers but twins in spirit. Conjoined in guilt over injustices to their coloured kith and kin yet resistant to what the Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey dubbed "the black armband view of history"; that mutual belief in the life-enhancing, nation-lifting, masculinity-affirming properties of sporting success persists, unbreakable and unmatched. And if that sometimes means naked aggression, macho posturing and all the nasties - well, that's the price Shane Warne was eminently willing to pay if it meant mentally disintegrating Daryl Cullinan. And the price we're prepared to pay for spice.

So roll on Jo'burg. And terminate with extreme prejudice whichever profoundly unwise men decreed that a two-chapter tale was sufficient in any circumstances, let alone our current plight.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

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Posted by Jarr30 on (November 18, 2011, 23:56 GMT)

If you pick last 10 yrs or so, the best rivalry has to go to SA vs Aus and I would rate IND vs AUS come close second.

Posted by SangakaraFan on (November 18, 2011, 22:10 GMT)

The BEST RIVALRY so far has been Pakistan VS Kenya.

Posted by Jabulani on (November 18, 2011, 15:15 GMT)

@davidpk - unlike the UK, SA does not have a dole system so we have to work during the week.

Posted by   on (November 18, 2011, 13:06 GMT)

Day one rarely draws big crowds at the Wanderers. Plus us Saffers are so used to the bloody Ausies counter punching we're scared to watch our own team's first blows of the match. Hehe.

I can't see anybody realistically rating any rivalry, each series has its own moments of utter competition and sometimes even full out war! I love watching my team play Aus, England, India, the Kiwis and most of the top level teams. And for me the rivalry feels the same.

Although if I had to (was forced with a gun to my head) pick I'd watch us play the Ausies every day for the rest of my life and die a happy man. Always great cricket!

Posted by AlanHarrison on (November 18, 2011, 10:33 GMT)

@RandyOZ: A question for you. Who holds the record for the most appearances in Ashes tests without ever appearing on the winning side? I'll give you some clues: the answer is a player who appeared in 15 Ashes tests without ever experiencing victory, and was a South African, and at the time, England also had other southern Africans, notably Hick and Lamb, regularly appearing for their team. I'd suggest that this is a problem for your idea that England have only been able to compete in the Ashes since they started picking players of South African descent and benefited from their 'not guts [sic] no glory' attitude. I might also note that during the same run of defeats England experienced between 1989 and 2003, England also picked a number of players of Australian descent, notably Martin McCague, Craig White and Alan Mullally. The "Australian" "attitude" certainly benefited England little at this time: White indeed appeared on the losing side in all of the 7 Ashes tests he played

Posted by Amol_Ind_SA on (November 18, 2011, 7:12 GMT)

Let's not forget that in that legendary WC1999 semi-final, AUS did NOT surpass SA by a whisker or anything. It was a T-I-E at 213 runs each. Just because AUS qualified for the final does NOT mean that AUS won that match.

Posted by Amol_Ind_SA on (November 18, 2011, 4:14 GMT)

The only factor due to which SA used to lose to AUS **in Tests** in 2005-2006 or before, was the great Shane Warne. Otherwise SA was always equal to AUS since their return in 1991. How else does one explain the supreme position of SA in ODIs in 1990s competing and beating AUS in it but losing so badly against them in the Tests especially the 1997-98, 2001-02, 2005--06 then ? And as an Indian I love SA-AUS Tests more than IND's Home Tests because in the former every run is earned and is far more thrilling to watch to be played on the bouncy pitches of SA and AUS. Frankly Tests here on the sub-continent are simply bore irrespective of who's involved.

Posted by Marcio on (November 18, 2011, 3:27 GMT)

Perhaps not the greatest rivalry, but very competitive games, and this series is an exciting one, though far too short. The Ashes is defininitely the greatest rivalry for AUS, and those from the subcontinent popsting stupid comments during the Ashes, like "This is only number 3 ranked team vs number 4" have no idea what they are talking about. Ranking have NOTHING to do with such rivalry! AUS vs NZ ODIs in NZ are a genuine rivalry too. NZ always fight hard, and often win.

Posted by Optic on (November 17, 2011, 22:55 GMT)

Like a few others have said there's been some kind of selective memory going on here, for the rivalry between SA and Oz. SA were getting dominated for the most part, why does he fail to mention that Oz have won 7 of 8 test series since '97 and most haven't been competitive. They had those back to back series a few years ago where they each won in the others back yard, which was fairly decent but seriously this has been painted into something it isn't, especially when it refers to evenness. Ask any self respecting Aussie which series would they rather win the SA one or the Ashes and I bet the large majority would say only one thing the Ashes and the same goes for the English. All you have to do to get an idea of the the rivalry, is look at the crowds watching, somebody better tell the SA's that this is their greatest rivalry because they don't seem to know about it.

Posted by avinash200j on (November 17, 2011, 20:41 GMT)

@Xolile - Yes SA defeated India in 1999/00...but that's long ago when India was just a mediocre team....The Indian team from the past 4-5 years has been doing very well....SA is a great team and they are the toughest competition for India in India as they are good players of spin.....but cannot wonder why they fall apart against the aussies.....I would love to see SA thrash the Aussies in the 2nd test just as they did in the 1st...:)

Posted by SaneVoice on (November 17, 2011, 20:33 GMT)

If it was such a keen contest then why there were no crowds at Jo'burg today? Any innovative explanations? Anybody?

Posted by   on (November 17, 2011, 18:26 GMT)

Always a keen contest...Should have been 4 match series.

Posted by bumsonseats on (November 17, 2011, 14:12 GMT)

im not sure why india v pakistan should be classed as a great series. on paper it should be, but as they dont play, we has no recent history is say that. similar if this piece was put up for discussion when SA were in isolation. as english i dont feel the same passion when eng v sa, as i do to eng v aussies. and looking at the 1st days play at the wanderers neither do the saffers. if this was any ground in eng or oz this would be packed to the rafters. dpk

Posted by RossA on (November 17, 2011, 12:08 GMT)

this is nonsense...ask any Aussie worth their salt and they will say the greatest rivalry is v England - were you there on the first day at Lords in 2005 when Harmison hit Langer on the head in the first over?? that was a RIVALRY! that was I imagine like being in ancient Rome in the Colosseum just before an epic encounter...the atmosphere was utterly electric and the crowd were baying for blood....

Posted by harshthakor on (November 17, 2011, 10:46 GMT)

Sorry,I forgot to mention South Africa's record 415 run chase (for a test in Australia) in the 1st test of the 2008-2009 series in Australia when the match swung in see-saw fashion till South Africa cruised home.The pendulum kept swinging one way or the other.

What ultimately set Australia apart in test Cricket was their match-winning stalwarts like the Waugh brothers,Watne,Gilchrist ,Hayden,Mcgrath and Ponting.South Africa had great batting depth and bowling and more allrounders but did not match the class of the Australian team or their professionalism at their peak.

Posted by   on (November 17, 2011, 10:15 GMT)

Australia is a very good side ,surely they will give thier all to win this game.Ponting a great batsmen & Australia needs him to score big time.

Posted by Number_5 on (November 17, 2011, 7:25 GMT)

dare i say the stage is set for the one in twenty man to perform. Mitch. cant wait, either way it will be a big game, last for punter? SAF first series win over Aus since they came back from the wildernesss.....test cricket, gotta luv it.

Posted by Armseun on (November 17, 2011, 7:17 GMT)

Why are there only two scheduled test matches?

Posted by   on (November 17, 2011, 5:31 GMT)

Only India vs Pakisthan only can match the quality of series between Aus vs SA. So we are very clear whats the requirement for a best series, EVENLY MATCHED IN ALL CATEGORIES OF THE GAME.

Both Oz and Saf does have the bowlers to generate shear pace and then a high quality top order batsmen who can reinforce that seam attack. Highly consistent middle order batsmen, who get more runs by running between the wickets. MOST INSPIRING FIELDING standards and moreover there is no home team advantage in this case....... Thats what puts this series in most anticipated list of fixtures.

But i would rate India vs Pakistan as the best ever because of the level of expectations from their fans and the eagerness of those players to register a win over their long term rival country. The two teams does fight till death against each other............. As this series is no longer happening we have to say that at the moment Australia vs South Africa is the best in terms of close contests.

Posted by Stevo_ on (November 17, 2011, 4:21 GMT)

For all those that bag Johnson's economy, he has a better economy rate than both Morkel and Steyn (3.33 vs 3.36 and 3.47)

Posted by harshthakor on (November 17, 2011, 3:14 GMT)

My best memories are of South Africa's thriling win by 6 runs defending a target of a meagre 117 runs in the 1st test at Brisbane in 1993-94,the Proteas almost drawing the rubber by coming so close to winning the 1998 Adelaide test,Aussies superb 2 wicket win in the 2nd test of the 1997 series in S.Africa chasing a 258 run target to clinch the series,the 4-4 one day result in 1994 in South Africa after the Proteas had established a 4-2 lead,the 4-3 One day series victory by the Aussies in S.Africa in 1997 , Australia's 2-1 triumph in the finals of the triangular one day tournament in 1998 after the Proteas had beaten them 5 times consecutively , the 1999 world cuip league and semi-final game where the Aussies prevailed by a whisker and the record 434 run chase in 2006 by the Springboks.

At their peak it was Australia's superior temperament professionalism and match-winning killer instinct that prevailed.

Windies-Pak,Eng-Aus and India-Pak contests surpassed this intensity ,earlier.

Posted by deano_411 on (November 17, 2011, 0:47 GMT)

Always a great contest and that is why it is such a joke it is only a two test series. Would rather see these two teams go at it in a test match then watch a T20 any day..

Posted by Mitcher on (November 16, 2011, 23:47 GMT)

I don't disagree with the premise of the article that Aus-SA has produced some of the best cricket in recent times. But I'd be hesitant to say the 435 chase and 2008/09 victory by Sth Africa in Australia has "drawn a line" under the '99 debacle. The record chase in a meaningless bilateral series was followed by Australia romping to another World Cup victory while the home loss was followed by an upset Test series victory on South African shores. Absolute crying shame this current series is not more than 2 matches as many have said before. It's an insult to the rivalry.

Posted by Shan156 on (November 16, 2011, 22:06 GMT)

@PiyushD, Please explain how Australia were able to roll SA for a double digit score if they are not nearly as good as SA. SA is definitely a better side now but the cricket between these two sides almost always provides great drama. Also, people somehow think that Australia is a poor side. Don't forget that they are one of the few teams to beat SL in SL (England, SA and India all failed to do that in their previous visits) and beat SA in SA last time (other than Aus, only England have managed to beat SA in SA in a full test series since their re-admission). They are clearly not the force they were few years back (which team would be after the retirement of Shane, Glenn, Adam, Mathew, Damien and Justin).

Let's see how India performs down-under in a few weeks time. I predict a closely fought series with the two teams sharing the series spoils.

Posted by srriaj317 on (November 16, 2011, 21:35 GMT)

Whoever is trying to imply Ind v Pak is better than Aus v SA has clearly NOT watched cricket over the last decade! A cricket match is to be judged by the quality of cricket and not by the number of spectators who throng to watch it! You guys may have a 100k turnout for Ind-Pak matches but Aus-SA are the two best all-round sides in the history of the game. The last 2 test series these teams played was an utter delight to* real purist cricket fans!* As Rob pointed out, the history behind both countries are similar and they share the same aggressive competitiveness. That would obviously be expected when both the countries regularly challenge each other in rugby, hockey and now footy as well. The Ashes and Ind-Pak have historical rivalry behind them which may lead to large match turnouts - but I have coming across nothing par with Aus-SA in terms of quality and intensity of cricket played!

Posted by Shan156 on (November 16, 2011, 21:04 GMT)

@Xolile, what happened between Jan. and June was that India won the world cup and grew complacent. They probably thought that they could beat England easily failing to note the significant advancements England had made in the test arena in the last 2 years. Some of their players, basking in glory, failed to watch their fitness, got over-weight and injured in the middle of the test match. Of course, that gave some of the fans a chance to make excuses for the defeat - like if Zak was there or Harbhajan had played, etc.

Posted by   on (November 16, 2011, 20:56 GMT)

There is no bigger game than PAKISTAN VS INDIA !!! Where did southafrica and australia come from ?? Even the ashes is nothing compared to pak vs ind !!

Posted by RohanBhalerao on (November 16, 2011, 20:47 GMT)

You know something Mr Steen, u r the greatest sportswriter I have ever read. With due respect to Mr Haigh, Mr Roebuck , Ms Ugra and My very dear Harsha Bhogle, u r something else!!! Whenever I see you name in the cricinfo article feed, i mentally reserve at least half an hour to savour your article. Just wanted to tell you, keep writing and mesmerising us. Your writing gives me as much a pleasure to read as a Laxman's wristy flick through midwicket or Tendulkar cover drive..!

Posted by Kaze on (November 16, 2011, 17:57 GMT)

I agree Aus vs SA is the best, Aus vs Ind is overrated. It generally ends up in one team getting hammered on fast wickets.

Posted by BellCurve on (November 16, 2011, 17:23 GMT)

@ avinash200j - SA won the 1999/00 Test series in India 2-0. Overall they have played 12 matches in India, won 5 and lost 5. In SA on the otherhand, SA have been dominant. They have won 4 out of 5 Test series, with the last one ending in a hard fought draw. If it wasn't for the "insider knowledge" of the Indian coach at the time, Gary Kirsten, that series would probably also have gone to SA. But saying that I have to acknowledge that I really enjoyed the 2010/11 series between India and SA. It was cricket of the highest calibre. That's why I fail to understand why India just rolled over in England this year. Something must have happened to India between January and June 2011. They seem to have completely lost the plot.

Posted by zico123 on (November 16, 2011, 16:44 GMT)

that's right Mitchell Johnson is a match winner, but not for his own team, but for opponent team :) he should have been dropped 2 years back, he delivers once in 6 months, no wonder why Australia is lingering at rank 4-5 as they have the most inconsistent bowler in the world in therir side

Posted by avinash200j on (November 16, 2011, 16:42 GMT)

I don't agree with some of the comments here about India not performing outside the sub-continent....We were the only team to give the aussies a run for their money when they were at their peak.....We drew a series with SA and lost a series 2-1 against SA in SA....we defeated the English in our previous tour....Barring the recent series against England we have performed very well outside the sub - continent....Coming to the other side ...the aussies,the english and the south africans haven't defeated us at do you say that the aussies,english,southafricans play well only in their countries...AUSVSENG is the most hyped rivalry of all time.....just because they are the oldest test playing nations it doesn't mean they are the best...instead INDVSAUS is the best better then AUSVSSA....come on can u remember SA winning against AUS when AUS were at their peak...Indian pitches might be batting heavens in the first two innings but they are also batsmens nightmare in the last 2 innings

Posted by SmellyCat on (November 16, 2011, 15:14 GMT)

Flying high after a single Oz collapse.. had they made a 100 more... SA would have choked... again.. as usual.. dont jump the gun yet

Posted by InnocentGuy on (November 16, 2011, 14:51 GMT)

A minor error - the link to the 2008 Boxing Day test goes to the 1st test instead of the 2nd test.

Great article by the way.

Posted by   on (November 16, 2011, 14:12 GMT)

Loved the first test.. Hope the second is half as good. Pity there is only 1 more test left... Makes one wonder why the BCCI allowed only a 2 test series b/w the 2 test loving nations?

Posted by PiyushD on (November 16, 2011, 14:03 GMT)

Don't agree SA Vs Aus stands nowhere near to Ind Vs Pak or for that matter even Ind Vs SA, the reason is very simple, currently Aus is nowhere near SA, they are wa way behind.

Posted by   on (November 16, 2011, 13:46 GMT)

barring the flintoff ashes, SA v AUS provides the highest quality of cricket of any variety. two tests can not do justice to this rivalry. we are living through the golden era of test cricket. teams going hammer n tongs at eachother.....this is test cricket. thank you rob for this amazing piece. finally a cricinfo article that did not strip away the emotions of a bout. your childlike awe of this rivalry is shared by many....long live test cricket

Posted by AlanHarrison on (November 16, 2011, 11:53 GMT)

I agree with those who think this article much exaggerates what is called the "evenness" in South Africa and Australia encounters. In the back-to-back series in 2001-2 and 2005-6 the South Africans were hammered, and in fact since re-entry into international cricket, it's still the case that the South Africans have only won one series against Australia. All of South Africa's recent wins against Australia have been associated with freakish/record-breaking passages of play (huge run chase of 418, huge ninth-wicket stand, record expensive debut spell from McGain, sudden rash of wickets at Newlands), otherwise Australia are dominant. If the same pattern were replicated in Pakistan-Bangladesh matches for instance, people would be crying match-fixing, not great rivalry. I don't think we are all "prepared to pay the price in spice" talked about based on supposed affinity between white South Africans and Australians: after all, the South Africa team is, thankfully, no longer all white.

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (November 16, 2011, 11:51 GMT)


Posted by   on (November 16, 2011, 11:36 GMT)

Look I understand what you are saying but the article is unreadable. Aus vs SA is so watchable because there are no other two teams in the world with such identical values, talents and with such a history of close fought results. If you were looking for a boxing metaphor why not look to the headlines. Frazier vs Ali was riveting because of the intensity and competitiveness. Just like every SA v Oz series. The article makes some nice points but when I got to the end it felt like I had been served a frothy cappuccino only to discover a thimbleful of coffee beneath the froth.

Posted by RandyOZ on (November 16, 2011, 11:34 GMT)

SA vs AUS is the greatest rivalry in test cricket. The poms have consistently shown to be weak opposition. SA always put up a fight. England have only done well since theyve got some of the SA not guts no glory attitude in the side.

Posted by Seether1 on (November 16, 2011, 11:10 GMT)

Excellent article Rob although I must agree with mak102480 that the series' of the late 90s and early 2000s were dominated by the Aussies. This had more to do with the mental scarring inflicted by the Aussies on us. In terms of skill and talent, SA matched Aus and maybe even exceeded them. However we lacked individuals that could take charge of a game in a tight spot and then ram home the advantage. In the first couple of series since readmission were drawn because we had 'tough as nails' players like Fanie de Villiers, Kepler Wessels etc who could give as good as they got. When those players retired thats when Aus started inching forward and eventually they dominated us. Even Allan Donald was transformed from a lion to a lamb whenever he played Australia. However these things work in cycles and as Rod says in the last few years they have usually blinked first.

Posted by   on (November 16, 2011, 11:08 GMT)

As if I needed someone else to explain why it has never been a problem to get up at 1am to watch a day of test cricket. Even in a hopeless situation with Aus at 58 for 4, chasing 117.

Cue Fanie de Villiers, et al. - Remember that contest, and place that alongside Newlands 2011.

Very well said Mr. Steen!

Posted by harshthakor on (November 16, 2011, 11:04 GMT)

To me it has the intensity at it's peak reminiscent of America versus Russia in the Olympics during the Cold war or West Indies and Australia at their best.In the test version S.Africa came close to toppling Australia from the mantle in 2008-09 by defeating them in Australia but just after got beaten in a home series.S.Africa also had honourable drawn series at home and away in 1993-94 and in 1997-98 ran Australia close at home and away.

In the one day version ws a better team than Australia till 1999 ,but choked in knockout stages or finals.The 1999 semi-final was one of sports most enthralling contests which ended in a tie.the Aussies triumphed because they handled pressure much better.However from then on till 2009 Australia continuously defeated the Proteas in both the one day and five day version.Now Australia are ranked around 3rd -4th ,but still it is an absorbing battle.

Posted by MrGarreth on (November 16, 2011, 10:57 GMT)

"Coming from a batsman whose technique would have sunk a thousand other careers had it not been reinforced by a heart of steel, Graeme Smith's match-winning hundred felt preordained" <--- loved this comment. Graeme shows that spirit. Only his 2nd 100 against the aussies yet both have come in successful forth innings chases. No one can deny the man's love of getting his beloved team over the line. Even those who criticize him over the world cup tend to not look at it in context: New Zealand got 220 in their 50, Graeme was leading the chase and went out at 100 for 2, probably quite rightfully believing he had done enough for SA to get home and the wheels came off. How can he be blamed for the rest of the team collapsing? What could he have done? AB was run out by Faf, Hashim hit on to his own boot and was caught (very unlucky) and Kallis well no excuse for the horrendous shot he played. Point is Smith has always had SAs best interests at heart.

Posted by jonesy2 on (November 16, 2011, 10:53 GMT)

australia v south africa is the big daddy rivalry because australia and south africa are very similar countries, similar people, and have been the allround best cricket teams in the modern era and will continue to do so. forget the ashes, thats just historical, england have never really been a firm onfield rival of australia's because it has been so one way in australia's favour obviously. like in rugby, england try and compete but they are so far off the mark and will continue to be. its engrained in the blood. india can join the conversation but they are one dimentional in that they win at home but cant play in others backyards.

Posted by East_West on (November 16, 2011, 10:09 GMT)

anyday - SA versus AUS, the best to watch!! I still remember that ODI where 400+ score by Australia was beaten by SA! come on! 400, we thought that was highest then you see SA is chasing that and beat AUS!!! that's what is SPIRIT! As for my fellow indians, viewership is much greater for our own matches because of our population quotient, and yes India versus Pakistan ODI matches are thrillers but you see a different taste when SA and AUS plays! for a long time Ashes were boring with AUS walking all over ENG, and first time in a long time, ENG started showing spine! [may be after Andrew F retired], however look at WI and IND now!

Posted by kasyapm on (November 16, 2011, 9:01 GMT)

Enjoyed reading the article, though I feel the rivalry that the author speaks of is only in the last 5-6 years. Before that Aus was the dominant team and was winning (both in Aus & in SA). Barring 99-00 (Aus won 3-0) & to some extent 07-08 (Ind won 2-0), I feel the Ind-Aus contests were the most fierce. But, Rob got it right about the twin concept - there are a lot of similarities b/w the countries & no sibling rivalry. Looking forward to more memorable SA-Aus duels.

Posted by rohan024 on (November 16, 2011, 8:42 GMT)

@Xolile completely agree with you..i can tell you test matches are just not worth watching in India esp. when they are played on flat pitches..infact, that's true for sri lankan/pak/UAE pitches as well..Also the fighting spirit of Aus and SA teams, is equally responsible for making their matches worth watching...similarly in ODIs nothing matches India-Pak rivalry..the fact that almost every match leads to a couple of deaths due to heart attack in the country that looses, speaks for the ferocity and adrenaline rush of those matches..

Posted by DINESHCC on (November 16, 2011, 8:35 GMT)


Posted by   on (November 16, 2011, 8:10 GMT)

Despite AUS relative mediocrity in recent times - the critical difference is: SA never give up trying to win, AUS never give in to the notion of defeat. Regarding evenly matched series - I don't think we've seen anything quite like PAK vs WI during the 80s. even taking in view IND vs AUS series of 2000s: IND drew in 2003/04 in AUS, but all their first choice bowlers were absent except Gillespie ( Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken were on debut!), in 2007 - they lost in AUS but Zaheer was injured. In any case a full strength AUS side was always better in bowling terms than IND, and the 2008 series was won in home only after mass exodus of AUS greats. In contrast - PAK vs WI sparred shot for shot. If Richards and Greenidge scored centuries Miandad and Abbas responded in kind. If Marshall, Ambrose or Patterson bowled bouncers - Imran, Sarfraz and Akram returned the favor. Those were contests built on blood and sweat, fit for men.

Posted by 1st_april on (November 16, 2011, 7:32 GMT)

Eng vs. Aus is No.1....5 tests home and away....equal tests for both and equal home and away rules.....unlike Aus vs. Ind and SA vs. Ind where India only play at home

Posted by 1st_april on (November 16, 2011, 7:29 GMT)

@rahulcricket007 India-Pakistan is a school boy rivalry where both teams threaten to take the bat and ball home when they start annoying each other.....

Posted by mak102480 on (November 16, 2011, 7:22 GMT)

one can make stats look any which way they prove his point, Rob conveniently didn't include the series between 1997/98 and 2006, when australia completely dominated. Australia won 1-0 ('97-98), 3-0 ('01/02), 2-1 ('01-02), 2-0 ('05-06), and 2-0 ('05-06). How is that a rivalry? The only country to consistently win series against Australia in the past 15 years is India. No doubt that SA/Aust have played some close cricket in the past 4-5 years but that's just because the Aussies are not dominant anymore.

Posted by India_boy on (November 16, 2011, 7:20 GMT)

u r spot on rob! this is exactly what i was discussing a couple of days back with my friends. I am a die-hard cricket fan and yet the only matches that I enjoy watching apart from Ind-Aus/Ind-SA are the ones that involve Aus-SA. They bring out the best in other and its simply a joy to watch the best bowlers in the world(SA) bowl to the team that are born to win(Aus). Their rivalry stems not from natural factors like those involved in Ind-Pak, Aus-Eng or even Aus-NZ but from the desire to win and dominate. And u forgot to mention the best thing in Aus-SA rivalry - their games are never ugly (read mindless sledging, finger pointing, swearing and all) unlike Ind-Aus, Ind-Pak or Aus-Eng

Posted by indianzen on (November 16, 2011, 7:07 GMT)

AUS Vs SA stands only next to INDIA VS PAK and ENG VS AUS. may be some more sparks were seen in the test match, Steyn and Watson were on fire so was Amla and smith...

Posted by Trapper439 on (November 16, 2011, 7:02 GMT)

@rahulcricket007: India and Pakistan have played each other 59 times in Tests, and 38 of those matches ended in draws. That's 64%. Not exactly riveting viewing for neutral cricket fans, to put it mildly.

Posted by BellCurve on (November 16, 2011, 6:48 GMT)

I agree with most of the bold statements in this piece. Whenever SA and Aus compete there is a balance between bat and ball which enables a true clash of wills. The "smell of leather" becomes part of the equation. That is essentially what Test cricket is about. Every wicket and every run has real value. Mistakes can easily lead to physical injury. This balance is mostly absent when India is one of the contestants, especially when the venue is in India. In the first 3 days the odds are stacked in favour of the batsmen and the last 2 days in favour of the bowler. A quick look at Kumble and Tendulkar's respective 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings bowling and batting averages says it all.

Posted by Saffalicious on (November 16, 2011, 6:42 GMT)

Once you can really appreciate test cricket, you wouldnt bother mentioning T20 or the 50 over format as being particularly important. Its like comparing the 100 year war to an early morning pheasant hunt.

Excellent article and I for one truely think that the SA / AUS rivalry is fast becoming the only other significant (and more competitive) rivalry in world cricket aside from the Ashes. This needs to become a regular 5 test series like the ashes because the magnitude of the rivalry and the quality of the exchange warrants it.

Posted by   on (November 16, 2011, 6:17 GMT)

It's great to see such a contest. I was looking forward to a great contest in the series of 2001-2002, but Australia completely obliterated us of course. It just feels good to be back!

Posted by Sid-cric on (November 16, 2011, 5:55 GMT)

Aus vs SA is always a tasty prospect alright but to call it the daddy of duels is a bit overboard. Check the number of test-matches that SA have won against Australia in the last decade. The numbers will tell you the story. In the last decade or so, the best duel in test-cricket has been between India and Australia. Not even India vs Pakistan (as they hardly play against each other). I guess the win-ratio is almost 50-50. Consider each series between Aus vs Ind since 2001. One-dayers too would be something similar (with the exception of World-cups). Test-series results : 2001 - India, 2003-04 - Draw, 2005-2006 - Aus, 2007-2008 - Aus, 2008 - India

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (November 16, 2011, 4:46 GMT)


Posted by smudgeon on (November 16, 2011, 4:29 GMT)

Excellent article, Rob Steen, but trying to draw parallels between Australian & South African history is a bit dicey. I definitely agree that in their competitive spirit & desire to win, Australia & South Africa are on the same page. Which is why it's such a pleasure to watch each series between them - neither team expect any quarter, and generally speaking they give none.

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Rob SteenClose
Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination". His latest book, Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, will be published in the summer of 2014

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