Monday, 21 November 2011

Australia pull off two-wicket win

Mitchell Johnson and  Patrick Cummins

Pat Cummins crowned his astonishing Test debut by belting the runs that delivered Australia a heroic and improbable two-wicket victory over South Africa after a record run chase in the second Test at the Wanderers.
Cummins was almost caught by Dale Steyn in his follow-through and survived a referred lbw decision against leg-spinner Imran Tahir that was judged too close for the third umpire to call.
Cummins was cool personified.
"As soon as it hit my pad, I thought it must be going down leg," he said. "Then I went down the other end and Johnno's [Mitch Johnson] like, 'Yeah, it hit you outside off.'
"I said, 'I thought so.'" Umpire Gould said not out, and Hawkeye showed it was only glancing leg stump, which is not enough to overrule.
Two balls later, he pulled Tahir to the mid-wicket boundary. "I was pretty much thinking, yeah, if he throws it up there, there's four to win, so try and go over the top somewhere," Cummins said.
"He dropped one short and luckily it hit the gap."
He clenched his batting glove in delight, but forgot to take a stump as a souvenir; umpire Ian Gould obliged. Mitchell Johnson was 40 not out, but at the players' race insisted that Cummins precede him. Cummins was named man-of-the-match. Disbelief hung in the air.
So ended a truly grand Test match and a memorable pair of them, made so by the fragility of both teams as well as their strength. Victory in every moment and on every day was to the brave. Credit also is due to two excellent cricket pitches. The only pity was the absence of witnesses: only twice in seven days was there the semblance of a crowd. Today's was a throng.
Australia have had many bigger wins than this, but rarely a prouder one. They arrived here demoralised by their eight-wicket capitulation in Cape Town. They were decimated by injury at the start of this match and seemingly out of it at most of the crucial junctures.
They wrestled with and tamed all the demons and monsters, their own, South Africa's, and at the death the great Steyn.
Charged with leading the defence of 309, he took just one tail-end wicket. By such epic wins do struggling sporting teams sometimes discover their vocation. Suddenly, Australian cannot wait for next week.
Captain Michael Clarke said it was one of the best wins of his career. "A big part of that is the way we got beaten in Cape Town," he said. "To be able to fight back, and the roller-coaster throughout the Test, the light, the weather, chasing the record last innings total: for so many reasons it's one of my most special Test matches and I'll remember it for a long time."
South Africa's mood was sombre: they still have not beaten Australia in a Test series in South Africa since 1970, nor won any home series since 2008.
In Test cricket, acorns grow into oaks in a day. For the first 2½ hours, nothing happened except rain. When play at last was possible, the early wickets of Clarke and Ricky Ponting looked to doom Australia. The sky was overcast, the pitch sporty. Vernon Philander, the find of the series, was rampant. His off-cutter to Clarke was a sizzler. Each of the few runs then was hard-earned. The first boundary took almost an hour.
But Mike Hussey and the wicketkeeper Brad Haddin relieved the siege with a stand of 50 for the sixth wicket. Just as important as the runs was the time that elapsed. The sun emerged, the pitch grew docile and the ball swung less than at any stage in the match.
Out of what was now clear blue sky, Hussey fell lbw to a Philander delivery that straightened down the line of leg stump. Hussey, disbelieving, referred immediately, and just as summarily was rejected. It was an untimely wicket.
But the conditions were made for free hitters Haddin and Mitch Johnson. Both are under pressure to hold their places, but instead of playing like condemned men, they tucked in as if this was their last meal. The match took its last decisive turn in the two overs after tea, when Haddin and Johnson took Philander and Steyn for 19. Within 50 balls, 50 runs were added, blithely. Before anyone knew it, they had put on 72.
Suddenly, the South Africans were on the defensive. They have a history of not clinching the deal against Australia, and now it came back to haunt them. A no-ball, a wide, a misfield, an overthrow: they gave away one of each, and then blew an optimistic referral against Haddin. It smacked of desperation. Captain Graeme Smith seemed at a loss to know how to stem the flow. Leg-spinner Imran Tahir bowled attractively, but, without maverick bounce in the pitch, could not penetrate.

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