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South African cricket has come a long way with the art of reverse swing.
At the beginning of my career we didn’t have a clue. Then we spent years and years on the back foot, suffering at the hands of those bowlers who could perfect it.
There is no short cut. It takes hundreds of hours of experimentation and practise to prepare a ball for reverse swing and it takes almost as many hours to shine it.
The process begins with the rough side, though, and the Proteas have to thank David Warner for the help he gave them with it.
Warner hit the first ball of the 21st over from JP Duminy for six and it landed flush on a concrete slab (watch video below at 43-second mark).
Dale (Steyn) told me that it landed right in the middle of the ‘rough’ side of the ball and made quite a mess of it. It was the perfect start to preparing the ball for reverse swing and it was happening as early as the 35th over as a result.
One end of the square was also very abrasive and the damage done to the ball quickly deteriorated in those conditions.
There is nothing illegal involved. It is impossible to do anything underhanded without being caught, either by the television cameras or the umpires who check the ball on a regular basis.
Everybody in the team needs to understand how to handle the ball and what the objective is, but you still need a bit of luck – and David provided it. On some days it simply doesn’t work at all and the ball never swings an inch.
There’s nobody better in the world at the moment to exploit reverse swing than Dale. Following on from Mitchell Johnson’s brilliant display at Centurion, it was great to see the world’s number one hitting back in such an emphatic way. He burst the game open when most people had been prematurely predicting a draw from the second day!
Everybody loves an underdog and it’s always good to see the less familiar names in a team do well, but it’s also fantastic when the marquee players rise to the challenge. There was a lot of hype and expectation around Mitch and Dale and they have brought fans out in goose bumps with their speed and skill.
Australia have the memories of 21-9 and 47 all out to contend with as we move to Newlands for the decider. I’m sure Michael Clarke will say it’s ‘history’ now, but I know I’d be thinking about it if the roles were reversed.
It’s going to be a massive occasion, one of the biggest Test matches in this country for over 20 years. There will be moments when the event threatens to get the better of players but I’m sure they will all respond well and cope with the expectation.
I’m not going to make a call on the outcome. If South Africa are favourites because of home ground advantage, then it’s probably no more than 51-49. These are the two best teams in the world at the moment and they will stand toe-to-toe for five days to find a winner. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Just as Hashim Amla and JP Duminy came good with hundreds at St.George’s Park , there are a number of excellent cricketers in the Australian side who could come right at any moment. Good players may lose form from time to time, but they do not become bad players.
Michael Clarke hasn’t reached 25 in his last five matches. I find that more of a worry than a comfort. It makes me believe is due – soon. Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle haven’t had their best couple of Test matches, but they have not become poor bowlers.
At the same time, South Africa were, believe it or not, a long way off their best in PE. They can get better with bat and ball but certainly in the field where they dropped at least five catches. I think Graeme might be hoping for a bit more form with the DRS as well!
A strong south-easter has been blowing which means the pitch will be dry and may take spin. But there is always some assistance for the seamers in the mornings at Newlands while the afternoons on the second, third and even fourth afternoons can be batting paradise. Something for everyone. And a sell-out crowd to enjoy it.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia