Cricket: Drama in Sth Africa lives up to the hype

By Rob Forsaith

Captains agree series full of everything great about test cricket.

Shane Watson is shaping up for a return in the third test. Photo / AP
Shane Watson is shaping up for a return in the third test. Photo / AP

It's rare for test series to live up to the hype, especially when they're billed as a clash between the two best cricket sides.

But captains Michael Clarke and Graeme Smith agree the action unfolding in South Africa is representative of everything great about test cricket and something they're unlikely to forget soon.

Australia not only beat but bloodied the Proteas in Centurion, Mitchell Johnson's career-best figures dotted with brutal blows to the hosts' helmets, hands and forearms.

With the help of AB de Villiers, Lazarus rose as South Africa batted themselves into a position where they couldn't lose the second test on a more-placid pitch in Port Elizabeth.

Both were four-day contests featuring no shortage of runs, wickets and - above all - drama.

South Africa have the chance to post their first test series win at home against Australia since readmission in 1994. Or, Australia can bounce back in Cape Town to defeat the world No 1 side and enjoy their first test series win on foreign soil since April 2012.

To top it all off, the final test starts at the foot of Table Mountain on Sunday at one of the most picturesque grounds in the world.

"It's a terrific set-up for Newlands. South Africa, Australia one-all going into the third, it's all set up fantastically well," Smith said.

"It was true drama," he added of a frenetic final day of the second test.

"Test cricket showed its drama again ... that's what makes this form of the game so special."

Clarke believed two one-sided tests indicated how little there was between the two teams, along with a shared ruthless streak.

"What we're seeing now is two teams pushing extremely hard to have success," he said.

"The fact that we've seen two four-day test matches shows that you've got two class teams that, when they've got momentum, they're very hard to stop."

Meanwhile, Shane Watson added further evidence to his case for a recall, bowling five overs in the nets yesterday. Watson, hampered by a calf issue for most of Australia's tour, stepped up his rehabilitation in Port Elizabeth under the watchful eye of coach Darren Lehmann, doctor Peter Brukner and physio Alex Kountouris.

"As long as he's bowling overs and he's fit, we would love to have that extra bowler," Lehmann said of Watson's hopes of a return for the decider. "We'll have to wait and see.

"It's a selectors' conundrum ... it will depend on the pitch."

Alex Doolan or Shaun Marsh appear the most likely to be squeezed out if Watson returns to the XI.

But the heroes of the first test would feel aggrieved after one poor match. "If we have to fit Shane Watson in and someone misses out, it will be really unlucky," Lehmann conceded.

- AAP

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