It’s not a church service

There should be only one thing more cherished than a test match, and that is a test match victory. And like all the best things in life, they don’t come cheap and they don’t come easy. Usually, they require substantial sacrifice and even risk.

In Australia South African cricketers are regarded as dull, uninspiring and unimaginative – not to mention terrified of risk-taking and far happier with a draw than a risky victory.

The last time a South African captain made an adventurous choice regarding the destiny of a test match was back in 2000 and it was received with a mixture of excitement and suspicion. Hansie Cronje’s ‘deal’ with England at Centurion involved two innings forfeitures and, while it tickled the fancy of the media and the paying public, infuriated his team.

This time there were no leather jackets, bookmakers and bundles of money involved. At least we can be sure of that. Smith had the complete support of his team and the decision to declare was based on a shared desire to win and square the series, not one man’s part-time hobby.

South Africa used to play so few test matches (and only against three countries) in the pre-isolation era that each one was treated like a holy ceremony. But test cricket has changed – cricket has changed. In three days time, the team will be playing a Twenty20 match!

What would the point have been in killing the Sydney test? Nobody and nothing would have gained. In rugby terms, Graeme Smith instructed his team to spread it wide, use the wings and trust their running ability. Sometimes those tactics backfire – all tactics can backfire – but he needed the win and his best chance was to run with the ball.

“I don’t regret anything – we decided to go for the win and that’s what we did. Ricky Ponting played beautifully, as he has done all series, and all credit to him. If I could change anything with the benefit of hindsight it would be the rain on the fourth day, not the declaration today,” Smith said.

Statistically, the result was intriguing. It was just the tenth time a team had declared in the third innings of a match and lost and just the second time that a team had lost after declaring in both innings. SA’s first innings score of 451-9 was also the ninth highest first innings score to lose a test match.

But there is one thing the fixture will always be, and that is: a game.

It wasn’t a church service and it certainly wasn’t a funeral. It was a game – a very good one. And if South African teams of the future continue to play them with that in mind, they will win more than they lose.

Stats:

Australia’s victory over South Africa at Sydney today was the 10th victory against a 3rd innings declaration in Test cricket:

Eng (81-7* & 75-6) bt WI (102 & 51-6*) by 4 wkts B’town 1934/35
Aus (458 & 404-3) bt Eng (496 & 365-8*) by 7 wkts Leeds 1948
Eng (395 & 174-7) bt SA (379 & 187-3*) by 3 wkts PE 1948/49
Eng (404 & 215-3) bt WI (526-7* & 92-2*) by 7 wkts P-o-Spain 1967/68
WI (276 & 348-5) bt NZ (323 & 297-8*) by 5 wkts Auckland 1968/69
Ind (228 & 406-4) bt WI (359 & 271-6*) by 6 wkts P-o-Spain 1975/76
Aus (394 & 342-8) bt Ind (402 & 330-9*) by 2 wkts Perth 1977/78
WI (245 & 344-1) bt Eng (286 & 300-9*) by 9 wkts Lord’s 1984
Eng (309 & 315-4) bt Aus (447 & 176-4*) by 6 wkts Leeds 2001
Aus (359 & 288-2) bt SA (451-9* & 194-6*) by 8 wkts Sydney 2005/06

Note: Eng (forf & 251-8) beat SA (248-8* & forf) by two wkts at Centurion in 1999/00.

This is the second time after the West Indies v England at Port-of-Spain in 1967/68 that a team declared both their innings and lost.

The eight-wicket margin was the second highest of these matches behind the nine wickets that West Indies beat England by at Lord’s in 1984:

Score Team Against Venue Season
586 Australia England Sydney 1894/95
556 Australia India Adelaide 2003/04
526-7* West Indies England Port-of-Spain 1967/68
520 Australia South Africa Melbourne 1952/53
519 England Australia Melbourne 1928/29
496 England Australia Leeds 1948
490 Australia West Indies Bridgetown 1998/99
484 South Africa England The Oval 2003
451-9* South Africa Australia Sydney 2005/06
448 West Indies Sri Lanka Galle 2001/02
(statistics supplied by Andrew Samson)

 

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