Many Australians are wondering whether their cricket team is beginning to lose its ‘aura’.
Six times in the last week I have been asked the same question during interviews as the country faces up to the galling prospect of a hat-trick of test series losses to the country which couldn’t beat them in 10 series spread over 98 years.
After the first post-isolation series was drawn in ’93-’94 with the help of some classic Darrell Hair umpiring in Adelaide, the Australians were relentless and remorseless in winning series, home and away, and doing it so convincingly that a couple of generations of South African cricketers passed through the international game with a toxic but unspoken conviction that they would never beat the Aussies.
Despite the 2-0 score line in Australia in 2005 it was during that tour that Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur reckon things started to change.
Having scrapped hard to save the first test at the WACA ground in Perth after initially putting the home side under serious pressure, South Africa again had their hosts in trouble in the Boxing Day test at the MCG before a bizarre and spirit-breaking 10th-wicket stand between Mike Hussey and Glenn McGrath helped them to victory.
Determined to live up to his promise to do “everything possible” to win the final test and square the series in Sydney, Smith became just the second captain in test history to lose a match after declaring in both innings.
Rain had removed much of the fourth day, forcing the touring captain to set a very gettable target of 280 which his opposite adversary, Ricky Ponting, gobbled up.
When the duck was finally broken three years later with two of the finest team performances in SA history at the WACA and MCG, Arthur famously said: “This will change cricket in South Africa forever. It is like the final frontier has been crossed.”
And so it proved four years later when the Proteas simply refused to buckle under what would previously have been unbearable pressure in the first two tests before hitting back at disillusioned opposition for a 309-run victory to take the series.
One thing we all learned along the way during this journey is that Steve Waugh’s infamous justification of sledging as “mental disintegration” had almost nothing to do with his team’s success. They won because they were brilliant cricketers.
Their loud-mouthed gobbiness was simply a tattoo their applied to their outstanding performances with bat and ball. And if further proof was required that sledging does not improve the performances of ordinary cricketers, it was provided by the delinquent commentary dribbling from the mouth of wicketkeeper Matthew Wade during the recent ODI series.
My answer to all six questions, by the way, was: “Yes.” The Aussies may very well win this series, but it won’t be down to ‘aura.’
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.