Amla and Philander finish top of the class
South Africa failed to realise their long-running dream of beating Australia at home, but came agonisingly close to finishing with a 2-0 scoreline. New heroes emerged, while some experienced names floundered under the pressure of an extraordinary duel. ESPNcricinfo runs the rule over the players they used during the series.
Two centuries in two matches are signs enough that Amla's rich vein of form is continuing. In this series, he was the spine, the pulmonary artery, the lungs and the heart of the South African line-up. With the openers not adding 40 in any of the four innings, the team needed stability from Amla at No. 3, and he provided that on two occasions. He had luck on his side at times, but played with the self-assuredness that has become synonymous with him. He won the first Test alongside Graeme Smith, and his partnership with AB de Villiers allowed South Africa to set a challenging target in Johannesburg.
Philander arrived on the scene with an explosive debut series that brought him 14 wickets at an average of 13.92, rightfully claiming the Man-of-the-Series award and proving doubters wrong every step of the way. He showed the importance of first-class experience and took to his role like an old hand. Philander bowled with exceptional control, made use of seam movement and exploited everything he could from the pitch. At Newlands, his home ground, he was the architect of Australia crashing to 47 all out. He had not played at the Wanderers since 2005 but adjusted immediately and became Graeme Smith's go-to man whenever a wicket was needed in the second Test. He broke the bloated partnership between Shane Watson and Phil Hughes in the first innings in Johannesburg, sent the pair back early in the second innings and removed danger-men Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey. His future in Test cricket looks bright and the challenge for him will be to maintain his consistency.
He started the series with a fiery four-for in Cape Town, claiming that his rhythm simply clicked. After taking six wickets in that match and five in the next, Steyn reinforced his status as the spearhead of the attack. There were periods were he was wayward and out of sorts, and he appeared to take more than two spells to properly hit his stride. Nonetheless, he combined well with Philander, his latest new-ball partner, and swung the ball throughout the series. Steyn dismissed Ricky Ponting lbw twice, a sign that he is able to work on specific game plans for specific players and then execute them perfectly. Steyn's batting should not be under-rated either. During the Wanderers Test he scored an unbeaten 15, and 41 off 64 balls to help South Africa overcome a mini-collapse.
Redemption will be how Graeme Smith remembers November 2011. It was the month in which he salvaged his steadily slipping reputation with the South African public. Smith's critics have not always been fair and have often mixed his flagging one-day form and occasionally brash personality with his prowess as Test captain. In this series, he reminded them of it.
Although Smith had three scores below 40, he had one gutsy century, which played a massive part in South Africa winning the first Test. It showed that he still has the mindset and the technique, to excel at the highest level. He grafted and grovelled his way to a century on a pitch that had yielded 23 wickets on a single day. As a captain, he made clever decisions in rotating his bowlers, especially in using Dale Steyn, who only came to the fore in later spells.
Having to change roles is never easy, but Morkel was made to do it in this series. After Philander was tasked with partnering Steyn, Morkel had to adjust to coming on first-change. It was a tricky task, which involved keeping the pressure on, and Morkel performed fairly admirably. There were times when the dual task became too much for him and he slipped into previous bad habits, such as overusing the bouncer and over-stepping frequently. He still finished as the third-highest wicket-taker in the series and maintained an average under 25.
AB de Villiers
de Villiers came into the series cold because of an injury to his hand, and failed in his only innings in the first Test. As a result, he was just as undercooked when he got to Johannesburg. To score two half-centuies and form crucial partnerships with Ashwell Prince and Hashim Amla showed his ability and his maturity. de Villiers also played a key leadership role, in his first series as Test vice-captain. He was involved in many of the on-field discussions surrounding umpiring reviews, and was often seen chatting to the bowlers. He also fielded in the slips and took a blinder of a catch to dismiss Phil Hughes for 88 at the Wanderers.
Calls for his head have become regular chatter for Prince, whose role in the side has always been underestimated. He had a forgettable first Test, with a duck in the first innings to form part of Shane Watson's five-for. When he had the opportunity to do what he does best in the second Test he did. He was the steadying hand in the century stand with AB de Villiers. A needless run-out in the second innings capped an underwhelming series for Prince, who will yet again stare at question marks over his role in the team. While he should have scored more runs, Prince's ability to be the sponge in the side and absorb criticism and negativity, while never reflecting it, is an important one.
Making his Test debut in seamer-friendly conditions was always going to be Imran Tahir's biggest test and he did not fare too badly. At Newlands, he only bowled 10 overs so his assessment is largely based on his performance at the Wanderers. It took Tahir a while to get his first strike in, but when he did, he cleaned up the Australian tail in the space of six overs, something South Africa have struggled with in the past. His googly proved especially dangerous. The pitch did no wear as much he would have liked in the second innings and he was often used in short spells and did not make too much of an impact. Tahir showed that his fielding had improved when he took two important catches. He has not had a Philander-esque entrance into the international game, but given how long South Africa have been without an attacking spinner, both he and the team will need time to work out how best to use him.
Kallis brought up 12,000 Test runs, but it was a quiet series otherwise. His scores of 0, 2, 54 and 0 were underwhelming to say the least. Of particular concern was the way he was roughed up by Patrick Cummins in the second innings at the Wanderers, where Kallis was clearly at sea against enthusiastic bounce. He was expensive with the ball in the first innings at Newlands, creating a worry for South Africa, who needed him for a containing job because of the new make-up of the attack.
Expectation was heavy on the comeback man, especially after sensational stints at Yorkshire and in the last two seasons of SuperSport Series, but he did not quite deliver. When at the crease, Rudolph showed confidence that few thought he possessed. He drove particularly well and had the right intent but could not carry on. Rudolph gave the impression that his job was to attack, especially in Johannesburg, where he was dismissed after top-edging a pull in the second innings. He has certainly showed the potential to forge a solid partnership with Smith.
It was a dismal outing for Boucher as he nears the twilight of his career. He entered double figures once but under-performed with the bat, an area where he needs to be firing. He is the gate to the South African tail, but in this series, he opened it without hanging around long enough. Boucher was a victim of rash, unthinking shots and made South Africa's lower middle order weaker than it should have been. Although his wicket-keeping remained good - and he brought up 500 catches in Test cricket - his failure as batsman was the more concerning one. Of even greater worry, is that South Africa have not groomed a keeper to take over and may be in a spot of bother soon.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent