At work yesterday thinking about the first test, starting in South Africa today, got me reminiscing about memorable South Africa v Australia match ups in my lifetime. Those two see saw matches in the World Cup that saw Steve Waugh lifted to deity like proportions in this country (he didn’t really tell Gibbs that he dropped the World Cup- makes for a good story though!), Warnie giving opener, and by all accounts Mr nice guy, Andrew Hudson the mother of all send offs in 1994 at Johannesburg and the personal highlight of seeing Allan Donald bowl in a tour match in Devonport, Tasmania.
But the game, and memory, that image that kept coming back into my head, was that of Donald, both arms held aloft, when he dismissed Damien Martyn in the 2nd test at the Sydney cricket Ground 1994. A game that was decided by just 5 runs and has gone down as one of the greatest test matches in my lifetime.
In a pre internet/pay tv era my only glimpse of the South Africans had been their involvement in the one day World Cup two years earlier in Australia. They had some impressive moments throughout that tournament and so I had some idea of what was to be expected when they arrived in Australia for a three test series in 1993/94. Rain had ensured that the 1st test in Melbourne ended in a draw and so both teams headed to Sydney hopeful of taking a series lead.
And it all went to script for a heavily favoured Australian team, South Africa were rolled for just 169 batting first; Warne was on the rise at this stage of his career and the seven wickets in the innings provided an exhibition in quality spin bowling. Kirsten, Rhodes and his old mate Cullinan were all undone by the flipper. Matthews, Richardson and Symcox victims of classic leg spinning deliveries, the Symcox dismissal was vintage Warne; around the wicket to the right hander, obviously attempting to bowl the batsman around his legs, the ball drifted slightly further to leg before spitting off the pitch and glancing leg stump. Symcox did his best Mike Gatting face as he found it difficult to believe that he could be bowled from a ball pitching that far outside leg.
Australia then scraped together a lead of 123 runs; Michael Slater, his career still in its formative stages, was dismissed, in what was to become an all to common occurrence, just short of his century; 92 the top score for both sides in the match. Runs also came from a young Damien Martyn and Captain Allan Border as they helped give the Australians a decent buffer, but it was hard work; Allan Donald and Fanie de Villiers both took 4 wickets and the run rate of 2.02 throughout the innings shows how difficult the pitch was playing.
It was the Warne show once again in the 2nd innings as he took 5 more wickets but for me the memory that sticks in my mind from that innings was watching Jonty Rhodes play Shane Warne; liberal use of the sweep shot and a willingness to play attacking shots set him apart from others in the series, partnerships of 76 with Dave Richardson and 36 with Allan Donald ensured that Australia would have to bat for a 2nd time and meant that the South Africans now, at the very least, had a defendable lead of 116.
By the end of day 4 the door had been left slightly ajar for a South African win; de Villiers had taken 3 wickets in 5 balls towards the end of the penultimate day and Australia went to stumps at 4/63. I remember the start of last day perfectly Allan Border shouldering arms to Donald 2nd ball of the day and the ball just clipping the top of the off bail; all I can recall is thinking “oh no, not again” perfectly aware of the disappointment I’d felt a year earlier as Australia fell 1 run short, against the West Indies in Adelaide, chasing a similar total. And my god it was painful, stand in Captain Hansie Cronje applied the screws with fantastic field placements while Donald and De Villiers bowled superbly. Waugh was next to go after the Border dismissal; Donald full and fast with a hint of reverse too good for the Australian, Healy dragged one back onto his stumps and Warne panicked and run himself out with 42 still needed for victory. But Craig McDermott, the man who had almost dragged Australia across the line against the West Indies a year earlier, set about narrowing the deficit. He played aggressively and with Damien Martyn put on 35; bringing the Australians to within 7 runs of victory. It was at this point my enduring image of this game occurred. Martyn ,who had looked well and truly overawed by the bowling and field placement ,in scratching out 6 runs in 1 hr and 46 minutes at the crease, threw his hand through a wide full delivery from Donald ,the ball flew straight to Andrew Hudson at cover, a guttural scream of joy emanated from the great South African quick as he sprinted to the fielder, arms held aloft, Martyn would not play test cricket for another 6 years and the match was as good as over. McGrath spooned a catch back to Fanie de Villiers the next over and South Africa had notched a memorable victory.
As we head into another test series between the two countries I can only hope we see some fantastic performances and some closely fought cricket. If we get anything close to the excitement of the S.C.G test in 1994 then fans are in for a treat.