Aus v SA player ratings (SA)

Australia hosted South Africa in Melbourne in December 2008. I watched the second Test, and this is what I thought of how the South African players performed.

Graeme Smith

Smith capped off the cricketing year of his life with another fine batting and captaining show, leading his side to a series win that he will do well to eclipse in what remains of his career.

He would have been angry to get out chasing a wide one in the first innings, leaving his side at a precarious 126/4, but he more than made up for it with the way he took the game by the throat in a run chase that might have left South Africans of the past clutching at their own.

In much the same way as Virender Sehwag took control against England in Chennai, Smith set up day five as one for South African fans to show up (and wake up) early for. And for Australians to stay home and do something else with their Tuesday.

Neil McKenzie

Ashwell Prince’s persistent thumb pain has saved the selectors a difficult decision and McKenzie a potential unfortunate demise.

After the year he has had (1073 runs @ 53.65, and forming half of the most prolific opening partnership of 2008) it would have been harsh had he been dropped for Sydney to accommodate the precocious JP Duminy. As it is, and credit to the man, he forged an unbeaten half-century to see South Africa to victory in the second innings.

Between the lines it says of how he was bowled off a no-ball and dropped by Hayden on 49, but he was there at the beginning of what could have been a tricky run chase, and he was still at the crease when Amla hit the winning runs.

Questions will have to be asked about a technique that twice in a match got him bowled leaving a straight one, and the Australians will do well to pose a few around the top of off stump in Sydney, but McKenzie will probably have to start the second year of his international reincarnation better than he finished the first one if there is to be a third.

Hashim Amla

Amla can consider himself unlucky to get out the way that he did – caught in the gully off a shot that Symonds had no right to see, let alone catch – but if he’d hit it along the ground not even Symonds would have caught it.

Still, South Africa’s number three continues to impress, though his flattery would do well to deliver a big one before claims of deception are suggested, especially with Duminy looking for a permanent spot in the top six.

That said, Amla has had an excellent year, and should be allowed to continue batting, sure of his position. His composure and willingness to score has been refreshing at first drop.

Jacques Kallis

If Kallis had known he’d only get the one knock he mightn’t have been so careless with his wicket, as he attempted a cheeky, and unnecessary, paddle sweep against Hauritz while looking comfortably set on 26. He did though, and he got away with it the first time, but he misjudged the length the second and top-edged, tamely, to Haddin.

In the slips Kallis was again flawless, his four catches including a screamer diving two-handed away to his right to dismiss a well-set Symonds in the first innings.

With the ball his contribution remains much more than could ever be hoped for or expected from a fourth seamer. While he did trouble the Australian top order at times, his three wickets were, admittedly, near the bottom of the scoresheet: Siddle, Lee and Hauritz. But then the Australian tail has proved irritating already in the series and Kallis was able to produce enough balls on target, and with a hint of reverse swing, to clean them up.

AB de Villiers

After the high of Perth, de Villiers had very little to do in Melbourne, both with bat in hand and grabbing in the slips. He got a good one from Siddle, for sure, but not a good enough one that he should have missed it. Truth be told, he had looked anything but the centurion from a week before, battling to get it off the square.

JP Duminy

If you had said to Duminy after Perth that things were about to get even better he’d have been within his rights to suggest you might be wrong. As it happened, he added 166 to his 50* at Perth, seeing South Africa past the follow-on and into a 65 run lead.

The way he managed the tail, showing confidence in them and composure within himself, suggested he has been playing test cricket for 10 years already. He hasn’t. But it’s very likely that he will be for the next ten to come.

His innings was virtually faultless, an edgy over from Johnson once past his hundred the only time he didn’t look completely in control of everything in the middle.

Mark Boucher

With only two catches and three runs in the match Boucher was never in the running for the man of it, but, as Matthew Hayden has been at pains to point out during the week, a player’s contribution extends beyond simply what he is picked to do.

The ‘keeper often took the time between and even during overs to run across to bowlers and point out anything that he spotted from behind the stumps. And as far as general’s go, Boucher is the sort to be firing from the trenches at the faintest hint of a scrap. He has lost against Australia often enough to appreciate the value of winning.

At 141/5, your last recognised batsman should probably not be looking to sweep in the air, especially when a fielder has just been placed in the way. And if all that transpired thereafter had not, then perhaps my “probably” would have been written as “certainly”, but such is cricket, and such is life.

Morne Morkel

Even though replays show that it came flush off Hussey’s helmet, the ball that Morkel produced to remove Australia’s struggling number four is the kind of delivery that has got South African fans and fans of fast bowling in general excited about this rough diamond.

Overall, however, this was not his most impressive test match with the ball, but doing for Hussey and Symonds, and Ponting on 99, is yet another illustration of his ability to dismiss top order batsmen, even when they are set.

With the bat, Morkel began one of the more impressive tail-wags of recent times with what at the time seemed just a useful 21. The actual number of runs aside, the innings did well to exorcise some of the demons of Perth (where South Africa’s tail buckled under the heavy ball of Mitchell Johnson) and remind those that were to follow that the pitch remained true and the bowlers merely mortal.

Paul Harris

Harris picked up just one wicket in 38 overs in the test, which you wouldn’t think would be pleasing to either him or his captain. But he did tie up an end for Smith (against an Australian side that famously likes to dominate visiting spinners) and he did remove Ponting in the first innings with what he will claim was a perfectly planned and executed piece of spin bowling.

Harris knows his role in this South African team and, importantly, both he and the team are comfortable with it. As long as South Africa remains successful with it then Harris will be a feature of the attack, because he has shown himself to be very good at doing what he does.

His 39 with the bat continued what Morkel had started, taking back run after run of what should have been a big first innings lead for Australia. In the end he would have been disappointed to get out the way he did – at the time still 143 runs behind – but it’s difficult to begrudge a tail-ender his appetite for scoring against a part-timer with an old ball.

Dale Steyn

With all the hype that surrounded Dale Steyn when South Africa arrived in Australia it seemed almost inevitable that he wouldn’t be able to live up to all of it. And even he would admit that he was slightly below par in Perth on what was deemed to be the pitch that would offer him the most support.

But 2008’s leading wicket taker lived up to just about everything that has been said and written about him as he took ten of the much spoken of 20 required wickets and, in so doing, led his team to a deserved test and series victory.

As if his efforts with the ball weren’t enough, Steyn added 76 of his own runs in a partnership of 180 with Duminy for the ninth wicket that were even more valuable than his wickets.

When he arrived at the crease on day three South Africa were still 142 runs behind and probably at best hoping to somehow force a draw. Steyn changed all that, with a fair bit of luck, some bravado borne out of that, and quite a lot of help from his partner at the other end. His was a deserving man of the match award.

Makhaya Ntini

Incredibly, Ntini has removed Hayden eight out of the last ten times that the batsman has been dismissed against South Africa, with the early breakthrough in the first innings being the latest occasion Ntini has boiled his bunny.

With all the pressure Hayden has been under to keep his spot, South African fans have feared one almighty backlash from the big opener, and having scored centuries in six of his last seven boxing day test matches at Melbourne, his dismissal on the first morning was exactly the start South Africa needed.

An otherwise average first day with the ball for Ntini did end with the important wicket of the dangerous Haddin, proving once again his ability to run in just as hard at the end as at the beginning of the day.

Ntini picked up just a single wicket in the second innings (Haddin again, edging again), but a controlled effort at less than two to the over in support of the striking Steyn set South Africa nicely on their way.

Read what I thought about the Australians here.

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