The series was lost but the final test match at Sydney was very much alive. For Australia there was a chance to restore a litlte pride; for South Africa there was a chance to wrest the number one spot in the world rankings. What we got was another wonderful example of the best that only test match cricket can offer.
The roller coaster ride that began in Perth and continued in Melbourne didn’t stop at Sydney. Every time one side looked like taking the initiative the other side would wrest it back. This was test cricket at its very best and when Ponting declared with Australia 375 ahead he gave us every opportunity for a finale that was worthy of a remarkable series.
Granted, the pitch was dicier than both Perth and Melbourne. Granted, the injured Graham Smith was unlikely to bat, so South Africa were effectively one wicket down before they even began the second innings. The question was not so much could South Africa win but could Australia take nine wickets — or ten if Smith decided to fight through pain.
The scorecard shows that the Aussies did take the wickets. The scorecard does not show the drama that we witnessed after tea: the threatening dark clouds; the ninth wicket stand between Steyn and Ntini that took their team to within ten overs of saving the match; the fact that Smith braved the pain in his finger to try and save the match. These are memories that will live on long after the shorter games are forgotten.
So well done South Africa for winning the series in such emphatic style and grace. Well done Australia for salvaging some pride in the final test. The world rankings show Australia still at number one. What this summer has shown is that the ranking is shaky. The prospects are exciting for world cricket.
Long live test cricket.