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SA's Houdini act a cruel twist for Oz

It was nearly 16 years ago to the day at the Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg that Michael Atherton was the England hero as he batted for ten hours and 43 minutes to stave off defeat.

South African cricket fans were disbelieving and disappointed at the same time as they would never have envisaged their bowlers failing to get the five England wickets remaining to complete victory on day five.

As it turned out, a most unlikely and improbable draw was played out with England’s captain having led the successful fight for survival.

On arrival at the Adelaide Oval for the final day of the second test match between Australia and South Africa, many expected it was just a matter of time and then Australia would be celebrating as the new No 1 test nation.

It is a title that they desperately wish to regain and so the excitement and expectation was not at all surprising, certainly not to me.

Attaining top status once again would be a vote of confidence and an affirmation for the hierarchy who are leading the rebuilding phase of Australian cricket.

Hope, and there always is that, is all that would have filled the hearts and minds of South Africans leading into that rather daunting Monday in Adelaide.

Hope in the change rooms that the batsmen still to go out there would be able to do the improbable, that luck would be on their side, that sitting in one place as play continued or tying the left shoe lace first would keep the status quo intact and hope that the end of the day would come quicker than it does normally. Hope also that, at the end of it, the Proteas would still be level with the Aussies.

Many a Proteas supporter, waking up in the early hours of the Monday morning in South Africa, would have peeped just to see the extent of the annihilation and been pleasantly surprised to find that, in fact, it was a fantastic rearguard put up by their team.

The fighting qualities of a team are the ones most required, desired and admired by its fans and what was shown by Graeme Smith’s team in that second test match in Adelaide was a lot of fight and also a never-say-die attitude that will have won them even more fans. It was quite incredible how they came out of a situation that was stacked heavily out of their favour.

While certain men stand out because of their extraordinary heroics, it is the actions of those few that will galvanise the group and help it go on in confidence.

The knowledge that there is a near unbreakable resilience in the squad will certainly put shivers down the spines of their opposition.

It is now up to the Proteas to produce their best and win a series in which they have been very much under pressure and also below par.

The Houdini act in no way can paper over the cracks and so will have highlighted many things to this champion Proteas side which need immediate attention. Not heeding those signs would be detrimental.

The game of cricket played at test match level is amazing for its toughness, not only on the team that does not quite play at its best but also on the team that dominates for most of the playing time. They must still effect the win and it is not an easy thing to do so.

Those who watched the second test match between Australia and South Africa in Adelaide would have concluded after a couple of days that the game was going one way for sure.

While it may look so many a time, the game is never a foregone conclusion and there is always the chance for a twist. It is these ups and downs, the sways from one side to the other that makes it such a compelling game to follow.

Those who have played and watched the game for a long time will heed the voice in their head that says there will be a twist.

It was a cruel one for the Australians in Adelaide and I reckon along with seeing the smell of victory blown away by the bats and solid defence of Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, they will struggle to sufficiently recover from that in the couple of days before the final test battle to mount as forthright a challenge as they want to in the west of the country.

It remains to be seen, but thank goodness it is only a couple of days between Adelaide and Perth as I am sure nobody can wait to see these two heavyweights go at it once again...the number one ranking still at stake. Winner takes all.

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