South Africa Cricket: Can Proteas halt the Aussie juggernauts?

South Africa Cricket: Comparisons with dominant Australian cricket sides of yesteryear are premature. The team that had as coach and Steve Waugh as captain, set the bench mark.

It will take a gargantuan effort to match those standards.

But there is no doubt that Darren Lehmann’s men have the temperament to carve out their own place in the history of the Baggy Green.

There was just something ominous about the way the Aussies put South Africa to the sword in the first Test in Pretoria last week.

To beat the number one-ranked side, boasting the top-ranked batsman and top-two bowlers in the game the way Australia so comprehensively despatched the Proteas was quite a statement of intent.

What would have been a further source of much consternation among the South African fans was the realisation that the Aussies reached their destination with so much left in the tank.

One thing about Australia as we noticed during the Ashes whitewash of England is that once they have the scent of blood in their nostrils they go for the kill.

They are relentless and ruthless. They go into the second Test in Port Elizabeth with their tails up and the bit between the teeth.

Michael Clarke and his boys are looking like a side on a mission to reclaim their place at the top of the tree.

A draw with South Africa will be enough to see them move up to second in the rankings ahead of India.

South Africa must find a way to combat the Mitchell Johnson juggernaut. In the build-up to the series there were suggestions by scribes with Proteas ‘affiliations’ that Johnson’s Ashes exploits flattered the Aussie destroyer-in-chief.

They tried to put him down by suggesting that he had profited from England’s poor, irresponsible batsmanship and that opponents undermined by deep dressing room fissures and infighting hardly offered a stern enough test of Johnson’s bowling credentials. South African batsmen were going to show him up for the charlatan he is, the Proteas cheerleaders predicted.

Johnson’s performance at Centurion was lethal and mesmeric. He hurt his opponents. He claimed scalps literally and metaphorically – he managed a 12-wicket haul and drew blood from a couple of batsmen with ferocious deliveries.

Listening to South African supporters in pubs across the country they are convinced player for player their team is better that Australia. Unfortunately, even were the outcome of matches often hinges on individual brilliance team sport is seldom about “our Dale Steyn is better than their Mitchell Johnson.”

Having characters in the team and the right temperament cascading right through the squad is just as important as talent.

We saw regularly during the Ashes in Australia how just when England thought they had their opponents on the ropes after claiming the wickets of ‘star’ batsmen the likes of Brad Haddin stepped to the plate, rehabilitated the innings and wrested the momentum back.

There is a newfound steely resolve about this Australian team. The soft underbelly so ruthlessly exposed during the disastrous Ashes tour of England has since been encased by an impenetrable veneer.

Lehmann must take credit for the way he has galvanised a group of players who six months ago plumped new depths as England’s whipping boys during a 3-0 Ashes humiliation.

The pressure is on South Africa to bounce back and make a fist of the contest in Port Elizabeth. But the hosts are going to have to dig deep if they are going to wrest the momentum away from Australia.

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