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

Australia's longest day

It wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't without its fair share of twists, but Australia held their own to pull off one of their most impressive wins in recent itmes

Daniel Brettig in Cape Town

March 5, 2014

Comments: 41 | Text size: A | A
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Thirty-two balls remained in the Test match when Australia's spearhead Mitchell Johnson hit Vernon Philander on the pads. He was bowling around the wicket at a sharp angle, the ball arrowing well down the leg side. On tired legs, with an anguished face, Michael Clarke referred the decision. It was the surest sign of desperation.

When the not out decision was relayed by the big screen, Australian shoulders slumped just a fraction. Would they be denied again as they had been in Adelaide 17 months before? Would they end the richest summer unsatisfied?

Thirty balls remained in the Test match when Clarke called on Australia's heartbeat Ryan Harris. Whenever the Test match ended, Harris was due for knee surgery. Overdue in fact. Bone floats around the joint sticks out of it at times, revolting but also inspiring some of his teammates. He was also handicapped by a hip problem, and team management had budgeted for only 8-10 overs from him in the fourth innings.

His previous over, the 24th, seemed sure to be his last of the match, having looked ragged and barely made Dale Steyn play. But those slumped Australian shoulders straightened up as Harris set off on his run. He had delivered before, he would do so again, no matter how he was feeling, no matter the circumstances.

Three balls and two bowleds later, it was all over. Australia had the Ashes, won at home, and added to it new-found credibility won abroad in the most searching circumstances. Newlands will be remembered for decades, and it will stand out among the seven Test matches won by Australia in 2013-14 for how far the team was stretched.

Clarke's men always made the running in the match, but had to wring every last drop of effort from themselves to dislodge the best and most stubborn opponent of all. Harris' closing burst, well beyond anything the medical staff had expected from him, symbolised the effort required. The last bastion of summer was the hardest of all to crack, and when it finally did the sense of achievement was palpable.

Ryan Harris wheels away in celebration after sealing the series for Australia, South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 5th day, March 5, 2014
Ryan Harris wheeling away in celebration after bowling out Morne Morkel will be the indelible image of Cape Town for years to come © Getty Images

Ninety-eight overs and seven hours are an awful long time to take six wickets, on a fifth day pitch with a five-strong bowling attack. Six balls among 588, with a new ball thrown in around halfway. With 41 overs thrown in from the previous night, the Australians had given themselves as much time as Clarke and the coach Darren Lehmann thought wise, before the "cooking" of bowlers became a factor. There are days when such a scenario can result in a finish well before lunch, the fielding side enjoying the fruits of their labours before the sun has peaked, and the batsmen ruing the mistakes earlier in the match that put them in such a position.

But as much as Australia wished for it, Newlands on March 5, 2014 was not one of those days. The creeping doubt and fear of another Adelaide 2012 loomed ever larger, as Clarke fretted increasingly over his declaration.

Signs were ominous in the first session when Kyle Abbott made himself about as hard a nightwatchman to dislodge as Fanie de Villiers had been in another Adelaide match two decades ago. It took James Pattinson's location of some reverse swing to find a way past him, and there was to be no rush of wickets following. Partnerships crept up in terms of balls rather than runs, as did Australia's anxiety and anger.

Much of it was directed at Faf du Plessis, who had not only been at the centre of the 2012 rearguard, but had also raised the ire of Australia by his insinuation of ball tampering on day three of the Test. Warner was particularly antagonistic, but his brio, while crouched at silly point, was prolonged by the fact that neither du Plessis nor his batting partners were going anywhere in a hurry. Every wicket had to be earned, as Harris did when he coaxed an edge from AB de Villiers after beating him repeatedly with the second new ball. In a day of hard-won gains, this was perhaps the most significant.

Clarke's men always made the running in the match, but had to wring every last drop of effort from themselves to dislodge the best and most stubborn opponent of all. Harris' closing burst, well beyond anything the medical staff had expected from him, symbolised the effort required

The loss of shine from the fresh projectile forced Clarke to resort to other avenues, and it was in this that he found an uncomfortable echo of 2012. Then as now, Nathan Lyon bowled tidily and judiciously but with not the mystery nor venom to find a way past dead bats. Before the match, Shane Warne had remarked that most spin bowlers took time to learn ways to succeed early on, before taking advantage of the rough.

Lyon's issue is quite the opposite, as he loses potency the further a match goes on. Both his mentor John Davison and Warne are aware of this, but must work further with Lyon to find the key to last-day success. For now though, Clarke had to rely on Steve Smith's leg breaks, and whooped alongside the rest when he winkled out du Plessis, lbw.

That wicket was celebrated as though the critical one, but the final session stretched every Australian reserve of patience and physical stamina. In the cases of James Pattinson, who engaged in a prolonged verbal joust with Vernon Philander before letting slip an angry beamer, and Clarke himself when confronting Steyn, the weight of the occasion was too much for their decorum. Australia's cricketers play their best when skirting the line between the aggressive and the boorish, and these moments of poor behaviour demonstrated the risks inherent in that. Clarke was wise enough to admit his fault in the aftermath.

As time ticked by, the memories of all that Clarke's men had achieved this summer could be recalled. Their ambush of England in Brisbane, Johnson's destruction in Adelaide, the Ashes clincher in Perth, before the pageantry of holiday hidings in Melbourne and Sydney. Centurion flew past in a similarly pleasant blur, before Port Elizabeth's reverse showed that the team retained numerous shortcomings in conditions not to their taste.

To rebound from that at Newlands, on a surface similar in its sluggishness, demonstrated a great deal of the team's progress, personified by the otherworldly batting of Warner, the naked intimidation of Johnson, and the burgeoning talent of Smith. As Clarke concluded:

"I don't think it's fair to compare it to the Ashes series that we just played. But I think an honest assumption would be that it's as good," Clarke said. "Any time that you beat the number one team in the world that's extremely special. For us to get over the line is very special for this Australian team. It certainly shows and represents that we're heading in the right direction as a team. It's our first bit of success away from home for a couple of years. I can't thank my teammates enough for their heart, their attitude, and the hunger. Davey sits here as a great example of the two things I've spoken to this team about, having the right attitude and having that hunger inside you to want more, to want to become a better player every single day."

But the indelible image of Cape Town will be that of Harris, summoned for a final spell of bowling at the Kelvin Grove End when he was in a far fitter state for a looming date with his surgeon in Melbourne. Earlier in the match Johnson had spoken of how Harris' will to overcome the physical hurdle of his troublesome knee had inspired plenty of others to ignore whatever minor ailments had affected them. At Newlands he went further than anyone could have expected, engineering a series victory that will stand comparison with anything achieved by Test teams from his country. At the moment of victory, Clarke was weary, relieved, and grateful. Australia's longest day of summer had become their most memorable.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (March 7, 2014, 21:02 GMT)

Day 5 at the Newlands Ground will go down in history as the most exciting !!!

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 16:22 GMT)

Who cares who's no 1 or no 2,3,4,5 or 8!Whenever the Aussies play the Saffers,it's always hard fought,nasty at times,but played with respect to each other.No need to worry about wether Lyno can take wickets in the last innings.Just enjoy the game for what it is. Well fought to the Saffers wouldn't expect any thing less.To the Aussies well played!!Onya boys!!!!

Posted by Analyst_c on (March 6, 2014, 16:21 GMT)

Ranking aside, is there now any doubt that Australia is the No. 1 test side in the world?

Posted by SurlyCynic on (March 6, 2014, 13:21 GMT)

@AussiePhoenix : I think it's wrong to say SA did not show 'fight'. There was no way they could win this test on day 5 but they did everything possible to save it. Look at someone like Philander, took blow after blow from pace bowlers yet didn't give his wicket away and gutsed it out. I call that fight.

Posted by James5 on (March 6, 2014, 13:00 GMT)

To those bashing people who laugh at suggestions that AUS is the best in the world by pointing out the rankings lead earned by SAF both sides are right. SAF deserve their No1 ranking as they earned it by winning and not losing all over the world over a long period & certainly deserve it more than India who got there by playing exclusively at home then losing it immediately when the inevitable overseas panstsings began. But on current exposed form the side playing the best cricket is Australia. Much like the way in which philander and Steyn deserve billing as the best pair the Australian line up is clearly out bowling them.lets stop bashing each other and bask in the glory of a series no one will forget & which reminded us of why T20 will never replace it. And to ENG & IND fans go away & let the fans enjoy this. I haven't got on the articles about the current ODI series where both sides were crap or the NZ series where IND drew the un-nonwinnable to bash your team so don't do it here.

Posted by ShutTheGate on (March 6, 2014, 12:14 GMT)

@ PrasPunter and ScottStevo

I think Australia being successful makes other fans nervous. They become anxious that we'll be come a super dominant team again and reign for another 10 years.

Fair enough as well.

Posted by BeeJayWa on (March 6, 2014, 12:00 GMT)

Daniel, you are a great writer and capture the issues so well.

Posted by PrasPunter on (March 6, 2014, 10:39 GMT)

@ScottStevo , exactly - am getting increasingly sick about the so-called key-bored experts like @Hello13 whose pastime seems to be Aus-bashing. For a change, these experts can start to enjoy the game !!

Posted by wapuser on (March 6, 2014, 10:26 GMT)

One of the most memorable series ever. We will all remember johnsons 12 wickets in first test. Morkel vs clarke battle. Steyns spell in second test. Marsh and smiths partnership. Warners 543 runs and twin hundreds. Devilliers form. Clarkes 161 not out. And of course to top it all off a thrilling last minute win by aussies. A great and memorable series in many ways. This series will be remembered for long time

Posted by Biggus on (March 6, 2014, 10:25 GMT)

@Dave Fair:- Selective memory much? Dale Steyn always has plenty to say, along with the rest of his team. I seem to remember a rather dim fellow by the name of Andre Nel, yes another of yours, and I don't think I've seen a mouthier player in forty years of watching, but I guess it was OK when they were doing it? How so? Do please enlighten we poor naughty Aussies just so we know better next time.

Posted by Chanceman on (March 6, 2014, 10:20 GMT)

Poor old Dave Fair, short memories of English duplicity with ball tampering to get reverse swing, sub fielders, snobbish ridicule of your Aussie betters, appalling crowd manners (well dressed slob dropping ball for fielder to pick up), recruiting S Africans because there are no decent English players, you name it the English have used it and often outside the glorious spirit of the game.

Posted by ScottStevo on (March 6, 2014, 9:42 GMT)

It's funny that as soon as Australia are winning, out come the morality police! Especially so when they're either Eng, SA or Ind fans whinging who all have sketchy (at best) morals themselves...

This whole Aus are the only poorly behaved team rubbish was borne out of frustration at never being able to beat us on the field, so they've conjured up a manner in which to attack them off the field.

Posted by dunger.bob on (March 6, 2014, 8:53 GMT)

Dave Fair : And you'd be a poster without a lot of dignity or class.

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 8:53 GMT)

One of the best test match I have ever watched on screen..hats off to both teams...

Especially for Australia,after 4-0 debacle in India what a turn around.what a come back.Won ashes then beating South Africa on their home ground.

They deserve to reclaim their spot in ICC Ranking which they possessed for long.The No.1 team in the world.True Legacy of of Steve Waugh,Ponting,Mcgrath,Warne,Hayden,Gillchrist...

Posted by Hello13 on (March 6, 2014, 8:37 GMT)

If any other team behaved like the Australians, they would get banned. Time to show some consistency.

Posted by Mindmeld on (March 6, 2014, 8:08 GMT)

LOL, David unFair. Nice of you to speak for "most neutrals". How many of them did to interview?

The good news is that in time your rage will subside.

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 7:59 GMT)

After the debacle of Durham in the English Summer, I had been scathing in my comments about this Aussie team, that they could lose from anywhere. I really feared an English whitewash of Australia in the Australian Summer, although, not as Ian Botham put it rather stupidly: "That the Aussie bowlers lack the penetration to take 20 wickets", rather because of our questionable batting. Well, in a few months; what a turnaround!!! Ian Botham was right...albeit in reverse!!! with England being the recipients of a ruthless cyborg like whitewash. But as an Aussie supporter, this series win in South Africa is much sweeter than the ruthless whitewash in Oz of a very over rated English team, utterly devoid of fight and spirit which South Africa possess in abundance. For the Aussies to win against such an incredibly tough opposition on there home turf, and to persevere and finally win in this epic Cape Town test is incredible. Clarke as he said: the failures make you cherish the successes more.

Posted by ThreePIllarTales on (March 6, 2014, 7:25 GMT)

Blood on the pitch. Heads, arms, fingers and ribs hit at 150 kph !Courage from all the batsmen esp Pup, Elgar etc. Wondrous batting from Davey. Stout defense from all the South Africans. Lastly what warriors in Rhino and Steyn ! At the end, great sportsmanship after the game between both teams...ok minus the Faf n Davey personal niggle ! A series to exhibit the great noble game that emulates life ....Test cricket ! Far cry from the Ashes.

Posted by dunger.bob on (March 6, 2014, 6:37 GMT)

@ Moppa: One of the most frustrating things about Lyon is that he actually puts plenty of revs on the ball. That spin-metre thing on Ch 9 showed he is nearly always in or near the red zone. He rips it, but doesn't seem to spin it. I think he rarely varies the seam angle and nearly always bowls top spinners rather than genuine off breaks. .. That's my theory anyway.

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 6:12 GMT)

Australia won, but showed their true character in doing so: their sledging during the bowler's run-up, deliberate beamers, roughing up the ball by throwing on the pitch, and finally, the aggressive and threatening behaviour towards the umpires and Steyn towards the end. All of it, a form of cheating, and very unsportsmanlike. They won the match, but confirmed what most neutrals think of Australia: dirty players without much dignity or class.

Posted by johntycodes on (March 6, 2014, 5:36 GMT)

Jason kreijza gets dropped after taking 14 wickets on debut and a couple of matches later failing to bowl out south africa on the 5th day in perth yet nathan lyon who I don't think has ever taken a 5th day wicket continues to not be able to bowl out tailenders on 5th days.

Posted by AussiePhoenix on (March 6, 2014, 4:47 GMT)

SA did not show fight, stubborness and determination - yes. But to fight you have to go for the win, only one team chose to do that.

Posted by harshthakor on (March 6, 2014, 4:40 GMT)

Simply test cricket at it's best with the intensity of a great boxing bout.It proved how much the game is in the mind and that no team in the world possesses the mental strength,fighting spirit or temperament of this young Australian team.They have simply ressurected themselves to the no 1 spot in the test arena,morally.Few teams have come back in such a spectacular fashion as the Aussies who faced a series of defeats against India,England and South Africa.

I give credit to the Proteas for fighting till the very end like soldiers resisting an enemy battalion with the fiercest of determination.In he end the Aussie fighting spirit simply blazed itself to glory.

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 4:37 GMT)

"Their ambush of England in Brisbane, Johnson's destruction in Adelaide, the Ashes clincher in Perth, before the pageantry of holiday hidings in Melbourne and Sydney. Centurion flew past in a similarly pleasant blur, before Port Elizabeth's reverse " wow, it is flowing, Daniel Brettig!

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (March 6, 2014, 2:42 GMT)

@Moppa- Got your point re. Lyon.Though never be a Warne-i.e, in a fantasydream world even-he is Aus' best test stock spinner.Fact he's worlds 2nd best-with Narine-aft. Ajmal.Dont like him 'bend' rules but 'legal' variations-carrom/fast ball-can be learnt.

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 2:29 GMT)

To suggest that Pattinson's beam ball was "angry" implies that it was deliberate. It surely wasn't, as Pattinson apologized immediately and looked mortified at hurting Philander with such a delivery. Pattinson's next delivery was a good ten kilometres slower in a clear sign that he had been shaken up by his error of early release attempting a full yorker(for that was all it was). Really poor from you Dan to insinuate that Pattinson had deliberately tried to kill Philander with a malice beam ball.

Posted by Moppa on (March 6, 2014, 1:28 GMT)

To fair to Nathan Lyon, I don't think its so much that he loses potency as the much goes on, but that he struggles to penetrate when batsman are intent on defence (as in Adelaide 2012 and here). His subtle methods are reliant on beating batsmen in flight, and this is much more effective when they are looking to score runs. However, he doesn't have the 'tricks' (e.g. a slider or doosra, or really big ripping off-break) to work out a batsman who has no intention of scoring. Backing up my first point, his career numbers suggest that, oddly, in the first and 3rd innings of the match he quite effective (averaging <30 and SR < 60) and not so much in the 2nd and 4th match innings (average approaching 36 and SR > 70). Not sure that pattern means too much, personally.

Posted by ShutTheGate on (March 6, 2014, 0:38 GMT)

I think that in 12 months Australia will have the number 1 ranking, will have 4 batsmen averaging in the mid 40's or higher and the older players will be struggling to keep the younger players out of the side.

I'd expect Pattinson, Cummings, Bird, Faulkner, Hughes to keep Siddle, Harris, Watto and Rogers honest. By the time our older players retire most of our newer generation will have 20 plus matches of experience which will ease the transition.

Similar to how Tailor, Healy, Slater and co paved the way for Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting and co.

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 0:10 GMT)

What a match, goes to show a fifth day pitch, a low run rate and some fierce resistance can be more absorbing than T20. Congrats to Australia, commiserations to SA, and farewell G. smith

Posted by andrew-schulz on (March 6, 2014, 0:02 GMT)

There are about 4 things you are reading wrong here,Dan.

1. The review in over 134 was a 'nothing to lose, might as well go for it with two left' review.

2. I saw a lot of determination in the Aussies eyes at many opportunities that they were creating at that time. They believed they would win.

3. On this evidence, you would have to say it is a six-strong attack and include Steve Smith.

4. Your 'numerous shortcomings' statement is a poor attempt to cover up after suggesting the PE Test was the answer to all manner of questions tre the standing of this team. Can't a team have one bad game in a summer of eight? That was a bad article, and it is actually quite boorish to focus on one game out of eight against world class opposition in assessing a side. Any team in the history of the game, Australia in the first decade of this century aside, would be envious of that sort of consistency. And this from a team that was rising from the depths.

Posted by LoungeChairCritic on (March 5, 2014, 23:52 GMT)

Test cricket can be such a wonderful spectacle. South Africa is such a tough side to beat. Smith should be proud of his record. Most Australian's really respect the way South African teams traditionally play. You always know that you are up for a contest when South Africa and Australia play. I think this respect for the Saffer game is best displayed by our decision to appoint Mickey Arthur as coach of the Australian team. Appointing a South African to coach an Australian cricket team is about as crazy as having a South African coach the All Blacks. After the Philander decision didn't go our way, I really thought that the Adelaide nightmare would be repeat. Harris really has a heart the size of a Rhino. I thought they would turn to Patto to bowl the final overs because Harris obviously bowled with discomfort on the final day. Well played Australia.

Posted by punterslovechild on (March 5, 2014, 23:33 GMT)

Beautifully written Daniel, thanks for capturing the tension of a wonderful day of Test cricket...sustained pressure from the Aussies and stubborn resistance from the Proteas, confirming who should be numbers 1 & 2 in the pecking order...

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (March 5, 2014, 23:12 GMT)

As they say fruits of hardest labour taste the sweetest.This Aus team's doing just that.After all the blood,sweat,tears-and broken bones/backs,bruised ribs,creaking legs-taste fruits of garden of Eden.And dont forget set the ice for the beer!cheers!!-:)

Posted by   on (March 5, 2014, 22:58 GMT)

Brilliant article. It would have been a travesty if the team that never tried to win managed to salvage a draw from a team that always tries to win.

Posted by CustomKid on (March 5, 2014, 22:51 GMT)

Rhino the endangered species! What a bowler, he just never gives up. If only he was 26 with a fresh pair of knee's, he'd go down as one of the greats.

Well done Australia, fantastic effort and I'm sure the amber liquid tasted so much sweeter after that nail biting, energy sapping day.

Posted by WheresTheEmpire on (March 5, 2014, 21:24 GMT)

Respect and congratulations to both teams for a pulsating series that had everything. Apart from the truly great test cricket there was even a bit of controversy, drama and hype to add some extra dimensions.

It's normally about now that I am left wanting two more matches from these SA-Aus series, but these teams have given absolutely everything and fought each other to a standstill and I could not ask for more. Harris has produced one last epic performance in a series full of epic individual and team performances. A series for the ages.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (March 5, 2014, 20:05 GMT)

Well done Australia and Harris, one of my favourite cricketers even though I'm an SA supporter. At least SA showed some fight today but Aus deserved to win this test.

Great series, as most between our nations are. Hope they can be longer than 3 tests in future.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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