South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 5th day March 5, 2014

Harris bowls Australia to last-gasp win


Australia 494 for 7 dec and 303 for 5 dec beat South Africa 287 and 265 (Philander 51*, Harris 4-32, Johnson 3-92) by 245 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Video report - A warrior to send off another

Ryan Harris goes under the knife for knee surgery after this series - he does not know what the future holds. He may play Test cricket again, but at 34 there are no guarantees. Whatever happens, he has delivered one of the great triumphs in Australia's recent Test history, bowling the team to a series victory over South Africa, the world's No.1-ranked side, when it seemed almost inevitable that Graeme Smith would be farewelled by his men with a fighting, fitting draw.

Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn batted together for 75 minutes as Australia sought the two remaining wickets they needed for victory and as the shadows grew longer, the looks on the faces of Michael Clarke and his men became more desperate. With five overs left, Clarke asked Harris for one last effort and he delivered, yorking Steyn first ball and then slipping one past Morne Morkel's bat two balls later to clatter the off stump and deliver a 245-run win, and a 2-1 series success.

Harris finished with 4 for 32 from 24.3 overs, a remarkable achievement for a man who looked spent. At times throughout the day he was hobbling and he pulled up in his delivery stride once late in the day, stretching and checking on his knee as he walked back to his mark again. Mitchell Johnson picked up three wickets but Harris was the man who delivered when it mattered most, including by getting rid of the stonewalling AB de Villiers after lunch.

For much of the day it seemed that South Africa might just pull off one last draw for Smith. Under his leadership they won a lot but just as notable has been their ability not to lose. Their last series defeat before this was against Australia five years ago. Smith will leave the game having lost only two of his last 27 Test series as captain. That is some sort of record. In the end, his men were unable to keep the Australians out for long enough.

That a day on which only 194 runs were scored in 93.3 overs could be so gripping is encouraging for Test cricket. This day was never going to be about the runs; South Africa could have batted until day seven and not reached their target of 511. It was simply a question of wickets - could Australia claim the six they needed throughout the day. South Africa's ability to bat out a draw in similar circumstances in Adelaide a year and a half ago suggested that it would be tough work.

And as in Adelaide, de Villiers and Faf du Plessis did their best to deny Australia. They came together after the nightwatchman Kyle Abbott frustrated the Australians during a near two-hour innings of defiant defence. At times when he faced Johnson all nine fielders were in catching positions. Eventually he fell for 7 from 89 balls when he shouldered arms to a James Pattinson ball that nipped in and clipped the top of off stump.

De Villiers was laborious but effective for South Africa's purposes, using up 326 minutes and 228 balls for his 43. Harris was the man who got rid of de Villiers, who pushed half-heartedly outside off stump and got a thick edge behind off a ball that nipped away just enough off the seam. It was a vital breakthrough after lunch, although an equally important one came just before tea when Steven Smith struck in the first ball of a new spell, drifting one in and turning it just enough to have du Plessis lbw for 47.

That left four wickets needed in the final session. Worryingly for Clarke, Nathan Lyon was having no impact, just as had been the case in that Adelaide draw. At times he bowled too quick, and like his colleagues, offered up too many balls that the South Africans could leave. The Australians became frazzled and frayed, but Clarke managed to manufacture a wicket by placing a leg slip, Lyon, who pouched a leg glance off Johnson to end JP Duminy's innings on 43.

But Philander and Steyn were not going to fold quickly. Philander was the only South African who really played his shots throughout the final day, but rarely did he create a chance. Even more impressive was that he spent part of the innings battling a painful blow to his hand after an accidental beamer from Pattinson jammed him on the right glove. Another glove-related incident was to come.

Immediately before the final hour began, the Australians won an out decision from Aleem Dar when Johnson banged in a short ball that tickled Philander's thumb on the way to being caught, but Philander asked for a review. The third umpire, Richard Illingworth, felt there was enough evidence that Philander's hand was off the bat at the time when the ball struck his glove and overturned the decision, much to the dismay of the Australians, and things really heated up on the field after that.

Whatever Clarke tried did not seem to work. Philander and Steyn just batted on and on. The bowlers wearied, and sent down ball after ball that could be left alone. Until Clarke asked Harris to finish the job. Two wickets in three balls, both hitting the stumps. An emotional series win for Australia, whose summer ended with seven wins and one loss. A gut-wrenching loss for Smith in his final match.

But mostly, it was a fittingly tight way for the campaign to end. Australia had the better of the series, but South Africa made them earn it. It was not until the last five overs of the last hour of the last day of the last Test of the series that the outcome was determined. And if every Test series was like that, the game would be in pretty good shape.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Luke on March 8, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    @Thozar Heres a bitter fact for you. In Tests SA 1, Aus 2, Ind 3. You obviously support India very passionately, which is fine and admirable but for goodness sake dont claim to be impartial. You arent. None of us are. Impartial people dont post here.

  • Andrew on March 8, 2014, 12:55 GMT

    @ thozar on (March 7, 2014, 17:26 GMT) - fine, rack off to another article & I look forward to your informed comments when Oz play India next! So if Bangladesh beat NZ in a test series, then NZ beat India Tests - where does that leave India - one place above Zimbabwe???

  • Prasanna on March 8, 2014, 6:20 GMT

    @thozar , cricket world revolves around india ? this sort of thinking is exactly the reason why your team is where it currently is. That over-bloated pride is hardly taking you anywhere. Learn to be humble and the game will favor you. Try to dominate at your own peril and it is already showing up. And I concur with Meety, Jaggar and other fans on their opinion about indian fans, except those matured ones like @IndianInnerEdge who are very few in number anyway.

  • Friend on March 7, 2014, 17:26 GMT

    @Meety, I have been an impartial observer and have been commenting on this test series as a cricket fan. It is not my problem if you get offended by me spelling out facts about your dear team and players. Facts can and usually will be bitter. We are not worried if your opinion on us decreases. We are not bothered about what Oz fans think of us. The world does not revolve around Australia. If anything, the cricket world revolves around India.

    @Protears, if beating India is not an achievement why were your great team that got thrashed by Oz of all teams at home has been unable to win a test series in India for 14 years now? Even England beat Oz at home and India buried them but your team just lost a series at home to them. That's a shame. You were also unable to beat Pak away. Worry about your own team as they are about to tumble down the rankings. We had some respect for RSA but fans like you spoil it.

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2014, 9:27 GMT

    Brilliant Test cricket by 2 absolute resilient teams ...Can't wait for the day BCCI whoops ICC allow these 2 brilliant teams play 5 Test Rubbers !! Speng after seeing McGrath,Warne,Langer Ponting,Hussey etc Retire Sth Africa have the talent to fill the Void somewhat ....AB De Villiers what a champion and look fwd to seeing him have a crack at being Capt. I have a feeling he won't be WctK though ..Faf what a champion gritty Batsmen he is ...

    Just a side note ...great to see Test crowds on the up in Australia , England and Sth Africa

  • Wesley on March 7, 2014, 7:55 GMT

    @jklawrence, I take it you're an indian fan because only an Indian would actually think that India are relevant in this. We have produced great spinners in our history but not as many as the quality of seamers we produce due to conditions. We have produced match winning quicks that have won games in India and we have had a series win in India when Pat Symcox was the destroyer in chief. India producing match winning bowlers is a bit of a debate really, they lost the battle of spin to England and clearly they can't win anywhere else, including NEW ZEALAND :) oh its funny when Indians make out like everyone else has a problem.

    NEWSFLASH beating india is not an achievement. Winning in Australia or England is.

  • Andrew on March 7, 2014, 4:55 GMT

    @wonderstar1 on (March 6, 2014, 15:16 GMT) (& Francis) - if Biggus was making the comments he made on an article that was about say India v SL, then he would be out of line. If you read through the numerous articles on this Oz v SA test series, you will see numerous outrageous comments from Indian fans which do tend to crowd out the good neutral comments from Indian fans. Purely based on this website, my opinion of Indian cricket fans decreases with almost every article. Read comments Thozar makes - there are others!

  • Richard on March 7, 2014, 0:16 GMT

    @wonderstar1 - you don't know when you are beaten. I agree totally with Biggus, Shaggy & dunger.bob. Through this website I am convinced Indians generally have an overinflated opinion of themselves. Your attitude, generally speaking, is beyond belief.

  • Michael on March 6, 2014, 22:45 GMT

    What an enthralling series. So happy that we won against a steely effort from the Saffa tail end. Harris you beauty, one of the most underrated players.

    Although we are not quite there (no. 1) we are certainly on the ascendancy and will once again be crowned the kings of cricket.

    Seems to me that we love each others back yards. From now on Australia will be playing all it's home games in South Africa.

  • Graham on March 6, 2014, 21:39 GMT

    TommyTuckerSaffa; I did give you credit for your post in this article. As for the lame comment I disagree there is no accountability for posters that make wildly inaccurate and derogotary posts at the end of the match. If you post something you should be willing to stand by it after the completion of the next game and I posted those, hopefully shaming people so that at the completion of the game they make think before they post. Unlike most of the people I shame, I can see that you can be humble in defeat as well as over the top in victory which is ok. But the rest of them is who I don't have the respect for. If your going to lack respect for me as I try to make people accountable well I will cop that.