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

Smith blames defeat on second-innings stumble


Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, has said that his team needed more runs in their second innings to push their opponents out of the game. South Africa were bowled out for 339, but it meant that Australia had to achieve the highest-successful chase at the Wanderers. Australia went on to score the required 310 to square the series, but they ended up scraping home by two wickets in a thriller.

"We were set up quite well after the AB [de Villiers]-Hashim [Amla] partnership and we needed to form one or two more partnerships that (fourth) morning," Smith said. "Losing four wickets in that session set us back. That was the time we really needed to put the knife in and make it count and take the Test out of their grasp but we didn't." South Africa lost all their remaining recognised batsmen - de Villiers, Amla, Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher for just 29 runs, leaving their tail exposed to Australia's attack.

On the whole, it was a symptom of a greater concern that affected the team throughout the series: their inability to execute the knockout punch when they had Australia cowering near the ropes. "There were times when we could have kept our concentration levels up a little more and maybe capitalised on a really good position," Gary Kirsten, the South Africa coach, admitted. "There's an importance to getting into that position and then being able to concentrate through a longer period of time."

In their first innings, South Africa were set for a big total at 241 for 4. Six wickets tumbled for a mere 25 runs as they crashed to 266 all out. With the ball, they had Australia stuttering at 215 for 6, with 95 runs left to win, and allowed Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson to tug the advantage Australia's way.

Smith however felt the bowlers gave their best in defending the total. "I thought we bowled well today in particular, especially that two and a half hour session upfront," he said. "We asked a lot of questions and we beat the bat a lot."

Both Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey had been dismissed before tea, leaving South Africa in a fairly commanding position. With conditions remaining seamer-friendly till the end, Smith banked on swing bowler Dale Steyn and rookie Vernon Philander to finish the job. Philander looked to cap off a dream first series in Test cricket, after taking a five-wicket haul for the second time in as many matches.

He threatened throughout and proved his enormous progress in the last two seasons of first-class cricket. The conditions were hardly alien to him as he made use of seam movement. "All surfaces are conducive to me," Philander said. "I rely on good line and length on the fourth stump and so I can nip it away or nip it back. That comes into play on most wickets all over the world."

When even that could not clip off the tail, Smith turned to legspinner Imran Tahir in the final overs with Australia needing just five to win, in a moment of innovation not seen before in South African cricket. "I knew it was a brave call," Smith said. "I felt [Patrick] Cummins had stood up quite well to the pace and I felt there was an opportunity for Imran. It would have been a wonderful story for him and for us and he almost did it."

Tahir had an lbw shout against Cummins that was ruled not out which was reviewed. Replays showed he was struck outside the line of offstump and the decision stayed with the umpire. "Umpire's call is a pretty marginal thing these days," Smith said. "It was a gut feel to use Imran. I was thinking about it for three overs, it took me a few overs to get there."

For Smith, South Africa's major concern is the ability to close out a game, which, if they had done this time would have given them their first home series win against Australia since readmission. "We certainly had our opportunities to take the game away from Australia," he said. "We have to take responsibility."

Kirsten, however, reflected on the positives. "Both sides let it slip and pulled it back brilliantly," Kirsten said. "The one thing I have been impressed by is the resilience of this team. We showed that we could pull it back."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on November 23, 2011, 21:50 GMT

    Personally , I'm not going to read too much into the fact that SA lost the 2nd test. As I (and many others) have said before it was a shame that it was just a 2 test series. You'd usually say that the team winning the 2nd test has the momentum but we all know it doesn't always work that way. Also , I believe the last period when the 2 teams played a home and away series close together, SA did better in Australia than they did at home. Any team with a bowling attack consisting of Steyn , Morkel,Philander and has batsmen the calibre of Amla , De Villiers , Kallis etc is a potentially very dangerous side. I fancy our chances but I'm not saying that because we beat Australia in Australia last/this year and Aus drew with SA in SA that we'll beat SA comfortably

  • Sharon on November 23, 2011, 19:48 GMT

    @Marcio - @indianzen is talking from out of a place it is not normally considered proper to talk from..... and not for the first time either.

  • Ranjit on November 23, 2011, 5:35 GMT

    @5wombats: Haha,thanks man. But you know what? Sometimes it's actually fun watching the Indian and English fans have a go at each other! ;)

  • Marcio on November 23, 2011, 0:04 GMT

    @indianzen what a load of tosh. Tahir bowled really well. Australia have excellent players of spin - Kawaja, Clarke, Ponting, Hughes, Hussey. They also just won in SL, in both ODIs and tests.

  • Jachin on November 22, 2011, 23:25 GMT

    @5wombats... looks like you've been watching cricket for about 5 decades... why do you squeal with delight when England's hold on the Test and T20 ranking is just a new/first-time occurrence. If the Indian fans have been hiding for 3 months, don't you realize that the Barmy Army were the butt-end of every joke, for most of your cricket-watching lifetime, with nowhere to hide.... So save your breath, you will need it aplenty, next November....

  • Martin on November 22, 2011, 14:27 GMT - starting during The Ashes this time last year a relentless wave of trash-talk began from certain india fans (not you, I hasten to add - you're one of the good guys) directed at, well, England. Once india started losing - all the big talk stopped because all those "certain fans" disappeared, for some reason. Now that 3 months have passed all the big talkers have returned; and they seem to have had a memory wipe. You know what; "you seem to be following the path of some of the Indian fans in the way you belittle the opposition" - you're right. From now on the wombats'll be reformed characters...... :-)

  • ashok on November 22, 2011, 14:22 GMT

    if ponting is out, all the other batsmen will perish for spin. SA did not have quality spin and thats why Aus won the 2nd test and the 3rd ODI.

  • Samuel on November 22, 2011, 13:30 GMT

    I thought Smith's captaincy in the last session was pretty awful to be honest. He gave away singles like gift wrapped presents and, I think, just expected Dale Steyn to do the business as he so often does. Well, Steyn's allowed the odd below par performance, and a back-up plan wouldn't hurt for when they come along. That said, Australia showed tremendous character to get over the line - the minute Clarke was out so early, they had no real right to win the game. There's a long way to go until they're the Australia of old, but this is the type of result that can go a long way to restoring slightly battered confidence.

  • david on November 22, 2011, 13:09 GMT

    2nd innings stumble write 1st innings stumble in so far as rash shots. if they had batted as per test and not t20 or 50 over format. they could have had a score of 400.which on that pitch would have been a winning score

  • david on November 22, 2011, 12:31 GMT

    47 all out great batting line up one to be feared

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