TELFORD VICE, Colombo
South Africans will be happy that their team regained the No. 1 test ranking by winning the series in Sri Lanka, but Australians are not best pleased.
Hashim Amla’s team, who won the first test in Galle convincingly, hung on with two wickets standing to draw the second and last match at Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo on Monday.
The selectors showed what they thought of that performance yesterday when they named an unchanged squad for the one-off test against Zimbabwe in Harare, which starts on August 9.
Going into the Sri Lankan series, SA and Australia were at the top of the rankings with 123 ratings points each. The Australians were adjudged the No. 1 team by a fraction of a point.
Monday’s result means SA have gained a full ratings point – which puts them back in the spot they held for 21 months before the Aussies beat them 2-1 at home last season.
SA played abjectly defensive cricket throughout at SSC, preferring to sit on the advantage they had earned in Galle rather than make any serious attempts to engineer victory.
That did not make for attractive, enterprising play. But it was always going to be plan A for a side that had won neither a series in Sri Lanka nor a test on SSC’s dour pitches since 1993 and were asked to do so this time without Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis.
The biggest difference between the first and second tests was that Amla won the toss in Galle and was able to declare on 455/9. In Colombo, Angelo Mathews called correctly and Sri Lanka were able to dictate terms.
“It was almost a mirror image of the first test but the roles were reversed,” Amla said. “To win a test match you always have to have the upper hand and often you don’t have the pressure of wickets falling.
“But having stuck it out for a draw was a lot more character building because of the way everybody applied themselves.
“There was definitely nerves, tension, and the biting of fingernails in the changeroom. It was a lot more emotionally draining (than the Galle test).
“To win a series here, we knew there would be times when we would be at our breaking point. We almost were.”
That was not how the Aussies saw things. SA’s return to the top spot was ninth in the pecking order of cricket reports on the Melbourne Age’s website yesterday, and was headlined generically: “SA secure draw to secure No. 1 test cricket ranking from Australia”. The tabloid Brisbane Courier-Mail’s headline was “Proteas knock Aussies from top spot”.
What Australia’s heavyweight cricket writers will make of SA’s achievement will doubtless be known when next they pen an opinion piece, but stalwart scribe Malcolm Conn, now of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, did not hold back on Twitter.
“Anyone who cares about test cricket should despair at SA scoring 8/159 in 111 overs regardless of the rankings #shameful,” Conn tweeted. “I’d be ashamed if Australia regained the No. 1 ranking by killing test cricket.”
SA should beat Zimbabwe, but that will not do them much good in terms of the rankings – which are weighted to reflect teams’ relative strengths.
Australia, however, will be the No. 1 team again if they win their two-match series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in October.