Just when you think the world of cricket couldn’t get any weirder or upside down, a Test match comes along that defies all expectations. Such an event occurred yesterday. The Australian cricket team is visiting South Africa for two Test matches (an absurdly short series in and of itself) and a bunch of one-day games. In the first Test match just concluded, the Australian team made it to the end of the first day at 214 for the loss of eight wickets, a mediocre score that required half its runs to flow from the bat of captain Michael Clarke. The following morning, Australia reached a respectable 274 before being bowled out. The pitch was relatively placid; the sun was shining.
South Africa safely negotiated their way to lunch at 49 for one. Then all hell broke loose. The Proteas, as the South African team is known, contrived to lose nine wickets for the addition of only 48 runs, leaving Australia to bat again with a second-innings lead of 188. But the drama had only just begun. Australia struggled to tea at 13 for three, and then lost an astonishing six wickets for only seven runs, to reach a total of 21 for nine. At this point, Australia was in serious danger of posting the lowest ever score in a Test match (26). A few blows from Australia’s last-wicket pair more than doubled the score, to 47. Nonetheless, it was an abject total on a pitch that held no demons and in perfectly decent batting weather. To compound the misery, South Africa then cruised to 81 for the loss of one wicket by the end of the second day. This morning they dutifully knocked off the remaining runs for the loss of only one further wicket at a brisk and frankly contemptuous pace.
As Lady Bracknell might have put it, if she’d be a connoisseur of the noble game, “To lose ten wickets in a day may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose twenty-three looks like carelessness.” South Africa can breathe a sigh of relief that their own disastrous performance in the first innings was swept away by an innings of such ineptitude and lack of spine that it quite literally hasn’t occurred to an Australian side for more than a century. South African Dale Steyn may be the best fast bowler in the world, but Vernon Philander (who took an amazing eight for 78 on his debut) is hardly in the same class. That Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith both scored centuries in South Africa’s second innings showed that the pitch wasn’t as bad as the other scores might suggest. All these reasons leave one agog at how far the mighty Australia has fallen! The question is, Has this team reached the bottom?