TELFORD VICE, Adelaide
TO Stephen Cook went the glory in the third test at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, even though to Australia went the victory that stopped their rot.
Cook, 81 not out at stumps on Saturday, was last out for a grinding, doughty and probably career-saving 104 in South Africa’s second innings.
Nought, 12, 23 and 40 were his other scores in the series, and even though he was clearly on an upward curve he could not have been confident of retaining his place in next month’s home series against Sri Lanka without banking a big effort in the second dig in Adelaide.
Cook can now consider that job done, even though that relief will be dulled by knowing what it feels like to finish on the losing side for the first time in his six tests.
South Africa’s and Cook’s innings were ended with the visitors just 127 ahead – not enough to stop Australia from winning by seven wickets with a session left on the fourth day.
Not that the result hurt South Africa too much: the series has been over as a contest since they won the second test in Hobart almost two weeks ago.
South Africa dominated in Perth and Hobart despite the loss of major players AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn to injury – a fact not lost on Faf du Plessis.
“Those were massive blows, and before the series if you had told the South African team they would lose those two players they would say they had no chance to beat Australia,” Du Plessis said.
“The most pleasing thing is that everyone out their hand up. As a captain it’s so pleasing to see everyone fulfill their potential.”
Sunday’s victory ended a streak of five test losses for Australia. However anaemic this success is in the greater scheme of things, will if nothing else quieten the strident calls for change in the game in this country.
The major gain for South Africa is the experience of having played a pink-ball, day/night test – only the third yet staged.
Soon, surely, the newest version of the oldest format will make its debut in South Africa. The fact that 125 993 people clicked through Adelaide Oval’s turnstiles in not quite four days tells us this idea’s time has come.
The behaviour of the new, improved pink ball was far closer to that of its venerable red cousin in this match than last November, when it swung around corners as the sun set and helped the inaugural day/night test hurtle to a finish inside three days.
“Before the series the questions we had around the pink ball and playing day/night (test) cricket were asked out of skepticism,” Du Plessis said. “Now that we’ve been through it, not so much.
“I think there are positive signs going forward, and I would definitely like to see it in South Africa.
“But there are a lot of factors to consider – the lights (in South Africa) would have to be upgraded quite dramatically.”
Despite the colour of the ball the Adelaide match unfolded a lot more like cricket has for the past 139 years.
That held true into Sunday’s play, when the visitors resumed on 194/6 and were dismissed early in the second hour with Mitchell Starc taking 4/80.
Cook stood firm through the dismissals of Quintin de Kock and Vernon Philander as well as Australia taking the new ball to pull Josh Hazlewood through square leg for four and bring up his second test ton with the last delivery before drinks.
South Africa were all out 14 balls later when Starc nailed Cook’s off stump to put paid to an innings that had endured for 240 balls.
David Warner and debutant Matt Renshaw got Australia’s runchase off to a solid start.
But when the partnership was worth 64 miscommunication between the batsmen led to Warne being run out for 47.
Two balls later debutant left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi trapped first-innings centurion Usman Khawaja in front for a duck.
A stand of 61 between Renshaw and Steve Smith, who scored 40, took Australia to within two runs of victory.
They won with four sessions left in the match and with Renshaw 34 not out.