So South Africa, despite beating Australia away in their last two series there, are still to beat them since readmission at home. They came pretty close to another drawn series, 4 overs close, but Australia struck at the end to win the series, a series that really should be longer than three matches.
What’s really stood out for me in this Australian side, bar one idiot, has been the spirit and class which they have played. All three Tests were hard fought and took the on field battle to the edge at times. Australia don’t play quiet, it’s one of the reasons they have been dominant in the 90’s and early 2000’s – a mental disintegration of there opponents that takes place before and during each match. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s South Africa have had teams that could compete skills wise with the all conquering Waugh and Ponting teams, but mentally were found wanting in the 50/50 plays that decide matches and series. This is an altogether tougher Proteas team, thanks to Smith, and crossing that barrier has lead to series wins away in England, Australia and the sub continent. So to see the emotion and fight out on the field between the two teams was evidence of the passion they have for their countries and their sport.
Knowing where the line is, is as important as knowing when to attack and fight, and when to step away. This is where Michael Clarke has lead by example, and bar David Warner, the rest of his team have followed suit. Mitchel Johnson and the attack would try and take your head off, snarling fire and were never short of a suggestion to the batsman, but each milestone passed by the batsman was met with applause and a handshake when they walked from the field. They recognized the spirit of the game and gave respect to who they were playing. This class within the team was no more evident than after Warner had made a few stupid remarks about AB de Villiers treatment of the ball in a press conference, and Ryan Harris later told reporters he didn’t think the Proteas had done anything wrong, they were just better at executing their skills than Australia were in that lost Test. On the perhaps the tensest day of the series, the last day of the deciding Test, after Australia had a decision overturned on review, emotions were high, with South Africa doing a brave job of battling for a draw and Australia tireless running in trying to get the win, their were a few words said between the Australians and Dale Steyn, with Clarke getting involved and the umpires having to separate them and have a word with Clarke about their behaviour. In the next break in play Clarke was seen going up to Steyn and apologizing. In the heat of a passion and emotion filled day things are said, and lines crossed, but recognizing when you’ve stepped over and addressing that is a class move, and Clarke showed plenty of that throughout the series. At the post match press conference he was again apologetic and took full blame and responsibility for it.
Teams have been used to be sledged, bullied and pushed around by Austalian sides in the past, sides that had the beating of others in terms of skill, but also on the mental side of the game, not allowing soft teams an inch. It has left things bitter in some regards, there’s no love lost between Harbajan Singh and the Australians, but when a side lead by someone like Clarke, and a side that follows his example, plays in the correct spirit, hard but fair, you can’t help but show a bit of admiration. Even if they are Australia.