South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 5th day November 21, 2011

Australia hold nerve to win thriller


Australia 296 (Watson 88, Hughes 88, Steyn 4-64) & 310 for 8 (Khawaja 65, Ponting 62, Haddin 55, Philander 5-70) beat South Africa 266 (de Villiers 64, Kallis 54, Prince 50, Siddle 3-69) & 339 (Amla 105, de Villiers 73, Cummins 6-79) by two wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Pat Cummins, the man most likely, and Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin, two of the least, delivered the most magnificent victory to Australia as the tourists chased the highest ever fourth innings total at the Wanderers, to square the series with South Africa on the final day.

At 215 for 6, Australia seemed to have as much of a chance to win as Haddin and Johnson had to make runs, based on their horrendous records this past year. Yet, somehow they forged a partnership of 72 to erase the bulk of the deficit, and after Haddin's exit was followed by that of Peter Siddle, Johnson and Cummins ran down the final 18 required.

No 18-year-old in cricket history could have enjoyed a debut as extraordinary as Man-of-the-Match Cummins, who followed seven wickets for the Test with a batting contribution of wondrous composure. He offered one chance, a sharp return-catch to Dale Steyn when nine were still required, and the resulting boundary was critical. Steyn, so often South Africa's salvation, will curse his drop.

Australia's victory was a rare triumph in a close Test match - in recent years, they have made an unfortunate habit of losing the epics. Adelaide 1993, Sydney and Karachi 1994, Kolkata 2001, Edgbaston 2005 and Mohali 2010 all trigger painful recollections, but this result will do an enormous amount for a young team and a fledgling leader in Michael Clarke, so soon after the traumas of Cape Town.

The result does not extinguish debates about the shape of the team, and injuries will also force changes for the home series against New Zealand. But Australia have now won the sort of match that can build a team and a tradition, and Cummins was right in the middle of it.

South Africa will ponder plenty of what ifs, and are still without a home series victroy over Australia since readmission. But in Vernon Philander, the Man of the Series, they have at least found a seamer of high quality, and it was he who seemed on course to deliver victory.

Philander's relentless line with a hint of seam movement either way had accounted for Clarke and Michael Hussey, either side of Morne Morkel's dismissal of Ricky Ponting, leaving Haddin, Johnson and the tail to confound conventional expectation and collect the remaining runs.

Clarke was bowled early, Ponting chased a wide delivery into the slips, and Hussey was pinned in front of his stumps in the penultimate over of an extended afternoon session. Ponting, Haddin and Johnson are all at the mercy of Australia's newly-formed selection panel.

Dogged rain and heavy cloud delayed play until after lunch had been taken, and at 1pm local time the contest resumed. The moisture appeared to have freshened the surface somewhat, and added to the swing available to bowlers all match, making it a difficult scenario that confronted Clarke and Ponting.

Their response was tentative, and Clarke's careful forward push proved fatal as Philander found a fraction of seam movement on a perfect length to find the gap and flick the top of the stumps. Hussey may have been out to any one of his first few balls from Philander, who nipped the ball away with dastardly intent.

At the other end Ponting was careful, plotting his way through each delivery with the careworn approach of a man weighing up his cricket mortality. For 33 balls on the final day he battled, but there were no boundaries forthcoming to get him going, and it was in belated search of one that Ponting departed. Morkel fired one short and wide, Ponting reacted a little too late, and the ball diverted off the toe of his bat into the slips. He lingered for a brief moment to survey his bat, then marched off to the most generous applause a tiny crowd could muster.

Next man in, Haddin, reached the crease under arguably greater scrutiny for his spot than Ponting, Australian minds still reeling from the sight of his widely deplored second-day demise in Cape Town. This year Haddin had averaged 14.70 in 10 innings, and his keeping at the Wanderers lacked assurance. Yet he and Hussey had combined for Australia's most lengthy Test partnership in the past 18 months, an epic 307 against England at the Gabba last November, and together they began to establish a bridgehead.

Neither was entirely comfortable, Haddin beaten outside off stump a few times and once struck flush on the helmet by a Steyn ball that turned out to be more skidder than bouncer. Hussey had 31 when he pushed at Imran Tahir and edged behind, only for Mark Boucher to parry the chance beyond the reach of Jacques Rudolph at slip.

A Tahir full toss and a Hussey cover drive brought the target within 100 runs of Australia, but Philander's return brought perhaps the critical wicket. His first ball pitched on leg stump and caught Hussey on the crease, winning an lbw that was referred out of desperation and nothing else. Though Johnson's first few balls were negotiated soundly enough, the second new ball was only nine overs away.

Mindful of this fact, Haddin and Johnson attacked boldly on resumption, heaping four boundaries from the first two overs and quickly whittling away the target. Johnson was stopped momentarily by an apparent spike through his boot, but otherwise sailed on with a clean-striking approach. Haddin showed even more panache, driving Steyn straight and Morkel over cover and, notwithstanding an optimistic DRS referral against Haddin from Morkel, the 50-stand flashed by in 54 balls.

Haddin's first Test half-century of 2011 arrived in the final over of the old ball, and only 34 runs remained to be gleaned from the new. Philander's first over brought a boundary, as did Steyn's. However, Philander then had Haddin nicking a late away swinger behind, with 23 still to be made.

The clouds had returned and the ball was hooping, the light also beginning to die. Siddle flicked one accomplished boundary, before Steyn claimed his first wicket of the innings when Australia's No. 9 attempted a hasty repeat of the stroke.

Cummins entered this match with a total of 27 runs in first-class and limited-overs cricket, and reached the crease with 18 still to get. A leading edge brought a precious three, and a series of nudges took the requirement into single figures.

Second ball of Steyn's next over and Cummins' mis-hit drive flew through the bowler's hands. The ball trickled down to the long-off boundary and Tahir was ruled to have touched the rope's imprint - five to win. Cummins swung giddily for the remainder of the over, but survived, to leave Johnson on strike. Graeme Smith, gambling, brought back Tahir.

Johnson pushed a single, and Cummins groped around a googly that struck him millimetres, at most, outside off stump. The DRS referral was duly denied by the umpire Ian Gould. Cummins left the next, a leg break, then collared a shorter googly through straight midwicket to raise the winning runs. Australia erupted, and the series was squared. Who but administrators would deny them a decider?

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 24, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    @jg2704 - agreed many of my fellow Indians are 'uncivilised' (just realised its been redefined).. u see while most of the eng/aus/rsa supporters think its just a sport we on the other hand are obsessed with this 'sport' ..Its basically what football is to you..(havin resided in london for 4 yrs in knw what football means to the english)...My point being trash talkin before or during the series is ofcourse wrong..When we lost the first test there were many english fans totally discarding the Indian team and some even goin to the extent of askin the team to pack their bags and go home..(nw i feel they shud have actually done that :p) ..Since u feel that we might very well have different standards then y r u takin offense? u shud simply ignore right? Though the english fans comment in a 'civilised' manner they r still hurtful..We simply retaliate..Some predict and 'lol' 'haha', some abuse while the rest just enjoy reading..Later!!

  • John on November 24, 2011, 9:24 GMT

    @Meety on (November 24 2011, 02:32 AM GMT) - To be honest I must have slipped past the posts that said England were as good as the 1980s WI and 90s Aus sides. Obviously a writer often writes things to encourage debate too. But the point I've been trying to make is that it has been only a small percentage of England fans on these boards who would be saying that we're that good right now . Just like when we were thrashed in the recent OD series by India , there were Indians saying that we were coming out with excuses and when I ask where - no response. Yet there were numerous goading comms from Indian fans after that OD series. I'd say that at least 75% (and that's a conservative estimate) of Indian fans were giving it the lol,ha ha,see what happens when you play in Indian conditions/luck/decisions etc. There were a very small minority who even acknowledged that the team were poor in tests in England. It was luck,injuries,conditions.... BTW - You're one of the wiser heads on here

  • John on November 24, 2011, 9:07 GMT

    @Harmony111 on (November 23 2011, 15:10 PM GMT) - 120-8 is not a great score. We were also 102-7 vs Pakistan and Broad and Trott helped Eng to 446 all out and Eng somehow won by an inns and 225 runs. If you're happy that India bounced back to have England 120-8 but still lose the match convincingly then good on you. In my world it would be better to be 21-9 , lose that match and then bounce back to win the next match to level the series. As far as I'm aware if you read the results of any test series it won't for example say "SA" drew series 1-1 (but Australia were 21-9 in the 2nd inns of the 1st test) . Surely the point of bouncing back is to show some end result or at least some progress? Oh and by the way you are talking rubbish about loads of England fans saying Eng are as good as 80s. And 5-0 was not in the test format and has no baring in tests. Saying ha ha and lol after gloating comms is what we would see as a little uncivil but maybe we have different standards?

  • John on November 24, 2011, 9:06 GMT

    @RandyOZ on (November 23 2011, 12:30 PM GMT) - I wouldn't say I love bragging. Also I think you'll find I have given credit to both SA and Australia if you actually read my posts which weren't in response to a postee trash talking England. If you or others post this stuff then I'll fire back. I'm not coming out with rubbish that we're better than the best Oz side of the 90s or the best WI side of the 80s. But if we're going by the recent history then I am happy that we are currently , independently ranked the best test side in the world and if you read my posts where I maybe to come over as bragging you'll find that they are in response to postees/posts talking garbage about England. Sorry if we're not all as sensible and humble in our comms as your good self

  • Harmon on November 24, 2011, 8:19 GMT

    I fail to see why the Eng fans (mostly) have/had this grudge against Ind when they were no. 1. Even the SA/Oz fans use the same nasty bitter words for Ind. Add to it SL fans too. Did Ind beg to become #1? Did the other teams gift this #1 rank to Ind? All along, it was said that Ind were playing at home mostly and so the ranking wasn't fair. Alright, much of that is a fair point. A #1 team should perform away from home too. What about SA? Why could they not beat Ind last year, AT HOME? It could be said that Ind came out as the better team at the end of that series, they had some chance of winning the 3rd test then. They lost badly in Eng and Eng came out as the better team, you can't win 4-0 if you are bad but Ind could have done better there but for a few issues. Now the onus is on Eng to prove that they are a better #1 team than Ind. If Ind win against Oz this time then their record would be equal. Let's see how Eng do in Ind this time but if Eng lose then be ready for reactions.

  • Andrew on November 24, 2011, 2:32 GMT

    @JG2704 - whilst I think that Harmony111 is a bit on the blinkered side of life, I have to say that there HAVE been comparisons made with Oz & WI Dynastys from English fans. Even Rob Steen did a WHOLE article on "aura". I would say MOST Pommy fans wouldn't dare mutter that type of comparison yet, (although would be crossing their fingers in hope), but there were some stirrers of the pot making wild claims. I'd name Sir Freddie & Ohh Matty as two, but there were others! @Siddarth Iyer - England deserve the #1 standing, all that is left to prove is a) to be undisputed (i.e winning basically everywhere as #1) & b) building a dynasty. I personally do not believe the difference between #1 (England) & #5 (Sr Lanka) is not as big as people think. I think on home turf, SL can theoretically beat Eng, (but not the way they are currently playing). It will make for some good series.

  • Martin on November 23, 2011, 15:30 GMT

    @JG2704 - mate - during the india V England ODI's you manned the barricades every day and did your duty, even though we got stuffed out of sight....! You are SOOOO right about the out of control braying and tasteless comments from literally hundreds of indian posters during that series. @JG2704 - I'd like to slap you on the back and buy you a drink - you're hard core! Maybe next summer at a Saffer Test match? whadoyasay? :-)

  • Harmon on November 23, 2011, 15:11 GMT

    @JG2704 :-

    You only need to read the comments section of that test and ODI series when there were so many Eng fans talking about this team being as good as the WI/Oz. And when you could not find anything to support your point of me being uncivil, you picked up the Ha Ha or the lol and said that look this is not civil language. My answer to this is Ha Ha Ha Ha. Got it? All along, the Ind fans have been saying that any team will be hard to beat at home, esp the top 4-5. The Eng fans were even grudging Ind #1 rank at that time and this is why Ind fans made this point. What did Eng actually prove by winning at home? Eng fans said they will defeat Ind and so they did. Ind fans said that wait till you come to Ind and Eng did lose to Ind 5-0. That proved one part of the point made by Ind fans. I have intermittently commented that Eng have a very good test team and esp batting and that the top 4 teams are all very close. This is uncivil?

  • Harmon on November 23, 2011, 15:10 GMT

    @JG2704 :-

    Just to make it easier for you to understand, it IS shameful for a team to be 120/8, playing at home, against a bowling attack that fans like you usually term as mediocre. If India ever are 120/8 in Delhi against a spinner, it WILL be a shameful performance. Someone from your clan said that Ind can't bat on SPORTING tracks, well, can Eng bat then? Can Aus or SA bat in such conditions? If Eng are that great a side then why were they 120/8? They won that match because of bouncing back but till that hat-trick, it was Ind that was bouncing back in that match. I hope now the word BOUNCING BACK is clear to you. It does not always mean a decisive victory, but it is a touché in many ways.

  • Harmon on November 23, 2011, 15:10 GMT

    @JG2704 :-

    Whoa, you sound so hurt there. I hope you know that this section is moderated and the comments take some time to appear. In the past, plenty of my comments have not been published whenever some Eng/Oz fan has crossed the limits. So it is rather stupid of you asking me to provide you with the examples. I have tried that while talking to 5Wombats in the past and the comments have not appeared. Let's choose me other forum for that. And did I ever say that Ind had won the match by reducing Eng to 120/8? But right at that point, anyone would say that Ind were on top and Eng were under pressure. Eng did win the match and I mentioned that too in my last comment. Perhaps you are too touchy and can't see the whole point Or may be you try to take points in parts and then give ridiculous replies. And do I really need to give you examples of Ind/BCCI/IPL bashing? You better see an optician since I can see quite a few cases of Ind bashing in BEFORE I had made that comment.

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