The scoreboard showing Australia all out for 47 runs during day two of the first Test against South Africa in Cape Town © Getty Images


By Nishad Pai Vaidya


The South AfricaAustralia rivalry never ceases to amaze the cricket world. Time and again, the two great cricketing nations produce encounters that provide thrills and heart-stopping moments for the fans. The Cape Town Test is another in the long list of thrillers as both teams fought for control like armies on a frontier.


When you talk about rivalries in cricket, the two that instantly come to mind are Australia-England and India-Pakistan. Both the traditional face-offs have their own historical setup that motivates the players to perform better. The Ashes and the whole background surrounding it inject a different spirit in the cricketers of both Australia and England when they play each other. On the other hand, the ferocity of the India-Pakistan contests emanates mainly because of several off-field factors ranging from politics to history.


However, the South Africa-Australia competition is mainly due to the way the two teams have played against each other in recent years. It doesn’t have much to do with the off-field factors when compared to the traditional rivalries. Whenever the two teams meet, their minds go back to their previous encounters and that motivates both the sides to deliver their best on the day. A common feature in their matches is the pendulum-like momentum shifts. But, the team that capitalises on chances in the dying stages ends up on the right side of the result.


The competitive and fierce spirit was visible at Cape Town as the two teams challenged each other in every way possible. The fact that all the four innings featured on Day Two of the Test match indicates the way both teams fought to gain the upper hand. The pendulum like momentum shifts were clearly visible as both teams kept coming back at crucial moments. For some-time there wasn’t a clear leader as the balance of power was equal.


There were three men who stood out at the end of Day Two and their efforts have been responsible for the precarious state of the game. Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and the debutant Vernon Philander have delivered performances that would be remembered for a long time.


The Australian captain, Clarke batted like a champion in the first innings. The South African bowlers were looking very threatening on the bowler-friendly wicket, but Clarke counter-attacked by playing some brilliant strokes. His strike-rate was very impressive as he put the bowlers under pressure by bringing new life into the Australian innings. A personal score of 151 out of a total of 284 speaks volumes of his efforts against a quality bowling attack.


Watson may not have had a very good Test with the bat, but his spell in South Africa’s first innings was a great exhibition of seam bowling. If one felt that Steyn-Morkel and Philander were on fire first up, Watson was on a rampage and completely decimated the hosts’ batting. The Proteas were 49 for one at lunch but when Watson got the ball, he ran through their batting. A spell of 5-2-17-5 clearly indicates his dominance over the hosts’ batting. He bowled in the right channels and got enough movement to trick the batsman. Furthermore, he mixed up his length well which added to his deception.


Having been bowled out for 96 and conceding a lead of 188, South Africa would have hoped for divine intervention to limit the tourists to a gettable target. The almighty answered their calls though Philander who bowled a spell of a lifetime in only his first Test. The way he bowled showed that he had picked up a few tricks from Watson. Like the Australian all-rounder, Philander focused on variations and got it to move after pitching it in the right areas. The wickets of Ricky Ponting and Clarke would be the ones he would remember for a long time as he tricked the quality batsmen early in their innings.


The three performances discussed above are the ones that symbolises the momentum shifts of the game. If one looks at each of the showings, one would say that individually they all are match winners. Such performances usually come in time to change the complexion of the game but the fact that they have come one after the other just highlights the quality of this rivalry. There isn’t a dull moment when the two sides battle it out in the middle. One game changing performance may not be enough for a team in such a contest. They may need three or four of them to completely seal the deal.


The match is far from being over as the hosts still require 155 to win this enthralling game of cricket. South Africa may have lost just one wicket for 81 in pursuit of 236 and look comfortably placed, but if Thursday’s proceedings are anything to go by, there may be more surprises in store. Australia may have one more rabbit in their hat!


(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.)