Australia clinch a gripping Test despite Smith-Ntini heroics

January 7th, 2009 - 7:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Jan 7 (IANS) South African captain Graeme Smith peeled off the cast on his broken left hand to come out to join Makhaya Ntini in a gutsy bid to save the third cricket Test , but their resistance came to an end with ten balls still to be bowled and Australia snatched victory in a pulsating finish here Wednesday. There was high drama in the last session as storm clouds gathered around the Sydney Cricket Ground and South Africa lost their ninth wicket, that of Dale Steyn, half an hour from the end. In their celebratory mood, the Australians saw Smith walking out to the middle to a standing ovation.

Smith, who grimaced in pain each time he played the ball and took his limp left-hand off the handle, gave Ntini the support till Mitchell Johnson came on to bowl the second last over of the match and shattered his stumps with a vicious inswinger.

The 103-run victory will ensure Australia stay the world number one Test side while South Africa savour their first series victory down under, having won the first two Tests, the first loss for the world champions at home since 1992-93 when the West Indies beat them.

South Africa required to score 314 on the last day for a whitewash, but their batsmen failed to recreate the Perth miracle when they had chased down 414, the second most successful fourth innings total in Tests.

South Africa never looked like reaching the target here as Australian bowlers did not allow any partnership to flourish.

Resuming at 67 for one, Neil Mckenize (27) was removed by Doug Bollinger (2-53) while Hashim Amla (59), who played some fine off-side strokes, was dismissed by off-spinner Nathan Hauritz.

In-form Jacques Kallis (4) got out to Andrew McDonald, who picked up a stunning one handed catch on his follow through. Umpire Billy Bowden ruled the batsman out after getting confirmation from the third umpire.

Jean Paul Duminy, the key star of Perth and Melbourne chase, played 92 deliveries for his 16 before falling a victim to Johnson (2-49). Mark Boucher was unlucky to be given lbw off Peter Siddle (3-54) as the ball was clearly going down the leg. The South African challenge seemed to have fizzled out, but there was one more twist to the gripping Test.

Ntini and Steyn raised hopes of forcing an improbable draw as they resolutely blunted the Australian pace battery for 75 minutes. The two stood up to bouncers without flinching. Tossed up deliveries met a straight bat while short ones were kept down with remarkable backfoot technique.

Ntini played a crucial knock, facing 75 deliveries for his unbeaten 28 while Steyn negotiated 88 deliveries for an identical score. They shared a stand of 55 runs but more importantly saw off 105 balls.

Steyn was eventually trapped lbw by McDonald (2 for 32) and the Australian team went up in celebration.

When Smith came out, there were still 8.2 overs to be bowled and Ponting kept shuffling his bowlers.

A determined Smith played out one Johnson’s over and went on to occupy the crease for 26 minutes, negotiating 17 balls. Ntini, on the other hand, stood solid save a catch to Matthew Hayden in the slips and a difficult chance to McDonald.

With just two overs remaining, it brought back memories of last year’s Test here when Australia beat India in the last over in fading light, leading to a major controversy. Michael Clarke had then bowled the last over and took two wickets.

Australia, who had often been called unsporting, also gave a fine example of playing in the spirit of the game as their fast bowlers did not bowl bouncers to Smith even when the match got tantalisingly tight.

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