South Africa v Australia – day five as it happened

Ryan Harris bowled Australia to an epic victory with 27 balls remaining on a nerve-shredding final day at Newlands

Australia captain Michael Clarke whose team have been frustrated by the weather at the start of their South Africa tour.
Australia captain Michael Clarke whose team are on the brink of a famous series win. Photograph: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Congratulations to Australia

The last-day rearguard, eh? The most exquisite torture in sport, even for neutrals. I don’t know about you but I’m spent: I have RSI, I’m desperate for the gentleman’s room and my eyes aren’t working properly. So let’s wrap the OBO up. Congratulations to Australia - who have some awesome cricket and will not top this summer if they play until the age of 80 - and to South Africa, who went down as champions should. Glorious sport, all told. What the hell do we do now?


So Australia win by 245 runs - or, rather by 27 balls. They deserve to win the series. They have played the better, more convincing cricket, and have dominated much of the series. Any other team would have been destroyed 3-0; that South Africa almost drew 1-1 says everything about their character. The two sets of players shake hands on the field with considerable warmth; they know what it takes to play Test cricket of this intensity and recognise each other as champions and worthy foes. Clarke and Steyn, who hated each other half an hour ago, are chatting are smiling. It’s been a pretty great day for Test cricket, all told.



Harris burst through Morne Morkel’s defences to make it two wickets in three balls and seal an epic victory for this brilliant Australian side. This man is absolutely exhausted, fit for little but the knackers’ yard – and to win a wonderful series under asphyxiating pressure with one last effort. He ends with innings figures of 24.5-15-32-4. What a champion.


WICKET! South Africa 265 all out!

Ryan Harris wins the series!


WICKET! South Africa 265-9 (Steyn b Harris 1)

Ryan Harris has struck! His first ball of a new spell was a beautiful yorker that just sneaked under Steyn’s defensive stroke and hit the off stump. Morne Morkel is finally put out his misery - and into an even greater misery. There are 29 balls remaining and he has to survive at least five of them.

Replays show that Steyn got the slightest bottom edge on the ball as his bat came down late - and without that bottom edge the ball may well have missed off stump. Anyway, five balls of Harris’s over to go.


134th over of 139: South Africa 265-8

Ball 5: Philander shoulders arms to a full outswinger.

Ball 6: And he shoulders arms again to end another over. Five to go.

REVIEW: 133.4 overs (139 overs to be bowled) South Africa 265-8

Ball 1: Johnson, bowling around the wicket, bursts a vicious short ball past Philander, who jerks his head back like Robin Smith in his masochistic pomp.

Ball 2: Philander defends solidly off the back foot.

Ball 3: Philander ducks under a short ball that goes down the leg side. WHY AREN’T PHILANDER AND STEYN GOING FOR THESE RUNS?

Ball 4: There’s an LBW appeal against Philander! It was surely sliding down from around the wicket. “Clarke knows it in his heart,” says Mark Nicholas – but he reviews anyway, just in case. Yes, it’s missing leg by a mile.


133rd over of 139: South Africa 265-8

Watson to Steyn. “It’s pretty difficult to describe the tension here,” says Mark Nicholas. “It’s almost harder to watch than play.” And he’s a neutral! Forget the World Cup, Froch v Groves and Peter Wright; this is the best sport of 2014, right here. Australia look tired now, and even Watson gives Steyn a few deliveries that he can leave outside off stump. One wicket changes everything. Who’d be Morne Morkel ’s underpants at a time like this? Another over is survived by Dale Steyn. Goodness me. Australia have 36 balls to take two wickets.

132nd over of 139: South Africa 265-8

Mitchell Johnson comes back into the attack. He goes around the wicket to Philander, who works a boundary to fine leg to bring up a fine fifty. Or, rather, a fine 95 balls. The next ball brings a cry for catch from Johnson, although it hit only the pad and it was dropped by Brad Haddin anyway, a really tough low chance. Philander plays out another Johnson over. There are seven overs remaining, or 42 balls, or 47,081 coronaries.

131st over of 139: South Africa 261-8

Yet another bowling change, with Shane Watson replacing Nathan Lyon. Australia’s fast bowlers have been heroic on this dead pitch, Harris and Johnson in particular. If Watson and Pattinson do not take a couple of wickets, they will be asked to bowl one final spell of this amazing summer. Watson makes the batsman play at most deliveries, as you’d expect; there’s a bit of inswing too, but Steyn defends solidly and a frustrated Watson fakes to throw the ball straight back at Steyn, prompting boos from the crowd.

Brilliant from Steyn, who has survived another over. There are eight remaining. Whatever happens, we will be talking about the events of these eight overs for decades. We’re now at the point at which the conclusion of this match cannot fail to be an epic piece of sport. Unless the apocalypse comes, which would be a bit of an anti-climax

130th over of 139: South Africa 261-8

We knew this series would come down to a battle of the quick bowlers, bu we didn’t think it would be like this: Philander and Steyn are hanging on with the bat. Philander in particular has been immense, and survives another Pattinson bowls from various angles over and around the wicket. The last ball, a nasty short ball, was beautifully defended. South Africa have another 54 balls to survive.

129th over of 139: South Africa 261-8

Another bowling change; Nathan Lyon is back. His figures are 21-16-10-0. Steyn waves through mid-off. The batsmen could have run two or three but they stayed in their crease. Runs aren’t overrated; they’re irreelvant. Lyon’s figures are now 22-17-10-0, almost a Hugh Tayfield tribute.


128th over of 139: South Africa 261-8

Clarke tells Pattinson to go round the wicket and bomb Philander, who does well to drop some elbow music wide of short leg. Pattinson goes back over the wicket; Philander works to long leg and turns down the single. A maiden.

“There is a reason why the Aussies are seriously hacked off. It’s because there needs to be conclusive evidence to overturn,” says James Lane. “There isn’t - you cannot tell me you can prove the glove wasn’t on the bat, one frame it was, the next it wasn’t. The on-field umpire’s decision should have stood. That said, the players have to put it out of their mind and focus.”

I realise this isn’t a fashionable observation in modern society, but I can see both sides. What I would say is that the commentators - South Africans, admittedly - were convinced it was off the bat handle. I agree that it’s really hard to tell. Were it a blank canvas for the third umpire, to give what he thinks is the correct decision, I would say definitely not out. But whether there was enough evidence to overturn, I don’t know.

127th over of 139: South Africa 261-8

Harris to Steyn. It’s a weary over, with Steyn only needing to play two of the six deliveries. He does so comfortably. Twelve overs to go. WHISKY!

“The Australian reaction to that correct decision was terrible,” says Roy Allen. “Surrounding the umpire, demanding explanations, arguing with the batsman, all when they, the fielders, were in the wrong. This is the sad but inevitable outcome of the DRS system, where the umpires no longer have authority.”

That suggests their authority was always respected beforehand. I’d put it down more to the change in masculinity than DRS. Their reaction did seem a bit out of order, though I was too busy typing/receiving CPR to see it properly.


126th over of 139: South Africa 261-8

With fourteen overs remaining, and the ball reversing a bit, James Pattinson replaces Mitchell Johnson. Cricketers often say it’s better to be out in the middle, because you can influence what happens. Tell that to Morne Morkel! He is padded up, is white as a sheet and is munching on an impromptu nail-based snack.

Mind you, out in the middle Philander looks as calm as it is possible to be in such circumstances. He and Steyn work a single apeice into the leg side. It seems Clarke reached out to Steyn and made peace before the start of the over. These two teams deserve to have a tooth-tinglingly cold end-of-series beer together in about an hour’s time.

125th over of 139: South Africa 259-8

A maiden from Harris to Steyn. I missed most of it, sorry.

124th over of 139: South Africa 259-8

It was a murderous short ball from Johnson, which was aiming straight for Philander’s head. It brushed his right thumb, hit his shoulder and looped to short leg. It looked out, completely straightforward, but then Philander - who staggered away from the scene in pain at first - reviewed it and the plot started to thicken.

That over from Johnson was the final over before the drinks break and the start of the final hour. We could theoretically have more than 15 overs in the final hour, but if it goes to the wire Clarke will take his time with field placings and the like. So there are 15 overs remaining.

“Do you suppose, when Warner does finally retire from the game, he’ll go straight into chatshow host mode or will he try out as a stand-up first?” wonders John Starbuck.

This is sensational! I suspect it’s the right decision, but Australia are hugely hacked off and you can understand why. The third umpire decided that the right glove was not on the bat handle, and therefore the decision was overturned. Bloody hell. Now Clarke and Steyn are having a go at each other.


REVIEW! South Africa 259-8 (Philander not out 45)

The third umpire Richard Illingworth is talking through the decision with Aleem Dar. Here it comes .. he’s not out!


This brings back memories of Edgbaston in 2005. Is there enough evidence to overturn the decision? Oh my goodness, this is a nightmare for the third umpire.

This is so tight

It was a sensational short ball from around the wicket. that seemed to hit the glove, then the helmet before looping to short leg. Philander staggered away, and then eventually signalled for a review. This is so close. It seems to hit the thumb - but is the thumb on the bat handle?

WICKET! South Africa 259-9 (Philander c Doolan b Johnson 45)

An awesome piece of fast bowling from Mitchell Johnson, although Philander has reviewed it.


123rd over of 139: SA 259-8 (Philander 45, Steyn 1)

Steyn can refuse a run but he can’t hide from Australia’s best bowlers: Ryan Harris has replaced Steve Smith and will bowl to him. There are six or seven close catchers. Harris softens Steyn up with a magnificent bouncer that just misses Steyn’s head. How will he follow that up? With another nasty short ball towards the stomach. Steyn has no option but to wince and bear it. Then he smiles, competitor that he is. Brilliant stuff.

122nd over of 139: SA 259-8 (Philander 45, Steyn 1)

Another Johnson over, another regal pull for four by Philander. Shot! And if he clunks it straight to midwicket, well, er, that’s the way he plays. Johnson is trying to pick a fight with Philander - probably as much as anything to get himself going, the old Allan Border/Shane Warne trick. With two balls remaining he goes around the wicket to Philander, who is magnetised towards a very wide delivery that reverses past the outside edge. The next ball cuts Philander in half, bounces just over middle stump and goes for four byes!

“If Australia don’t win this, there will presumably be a huge inquest in the person responsible for the “lost overs” before lunch yesterday?” says Phil Lewis. “Whose madness was responsible for that? My money would be on Warne coming up with the idea, Pup going along with his mentor and Lehman giving them both a rocket. Of course this is pure fantasy on my part and based on nothing but my own prejudice. Having taken a slice of 11/4 on an Oz series win I’ll be wanting blood too.”


121st over of 139: SA 251-8 (Philander 41, Steyn 1)

Steve Smith replaces Lyon, an intriguing move from Michael Clarke. He has slip, gully, silly point and short leg for Dale Steyn, who pushes the fourth ball fractionally short of the man at short leg. South Africa turn down the run, which suggests Philander is going to take Johnson. A maiden from Smith. Eighteen overs remain.

“Please, could you stop people saying things like ‘if Test cricket still exists’,” says Robert Wilson. “It’s way too depressing on a day like this. Some dismaying realities should be stoutly ignored. The death of books and music, what you look like in the mirror and just general entropy and horror. What’s wrong with a little daydreaming? Timeless Tests will be back in twenty years. People will think we were bimbos for liking all this shallow five-day stuff.”

120th over of 139: SA 251-8 (Philander 41, Steyn 1)

Philander hits another cracking pull for four off Johnson.

“Australia’s obvious superiority?” queries Richard Thomson of the 115th-over entry. “I reckon the two sides are pretty even. Parnell’s injury in PE and Steyn’s here have meant they’ve played two tests with 10 and a half men. And if SA had won the toss here they could have been the ones to declare at 494 for 7.”

I think Australia have been much the better side, though I agree there are mitigating circumstances. And South Africa’s reluctance to accept the logic of defeat has been so impressive.

Wicket description

Johnson reversed one into Duminy, who played it off the face of the bat to leg gully, where Lyon took a nice low catch. That’s brilliant from both Johnson and his captain Michael Clarke, and Australia are again favourites to win this. They are almost too tired to celebrate.


WICKET! South Africa 246-8 (Duminy c Lyon b Johnson 43)

Mitchell Johnson has broken through!


119th over of 139: SA 246-7 (Duminy 43, Philander 37)

Lyon gets one to bounce really nastily at Philander, but it moves sufficiently slowly off the pitch that he can back and defend. Another maiden. Twenty overs to go. There isn’t a dry nail in the house.

“Rob Rob Rob,” says Raghu Rathnam. “The reason no one has chased 450 is that no one gives a target of 450 with around 150 overs to spare. It’s a self fulfilling circular reference thingamaggig.”

Ah, but not all targets are a product of declarations. Look at Perth 2008 for example.

118th over of 139: SA 246-7 (Duminy 43, Philander 37)

Philander pulls Johnson for four with swaggering disdain. Johnson bangs the next ball into the pitch and politely enquires as to whether Philander is named after Vern in Stand By Me. Philander replies that, no, that can’t be possible, because he was born on June 24 1985 and Stand By Me did not come out until 8 August 1986.

Johnson is angry now. He’s got the face on. He always had the face on, but you know what I mean. He gets some encouraging reverse swing into Duminy, who defends. This is glorious sport.

117th over of 139: SA 241-7 (Duminy 43, Philander 32)

Another bowling change from Michael Clarke, with Nathan Lyon replacing I can’t keep up with this, who the hell has he replaced ?Michael Clarke. An accurate over is immaculately defended by Duminy. There are 22 overs to go. I’m not sure who is going through the more powerful wringer: Australia or South Africa fans.

“I predict the highest fourth-innings chase record will be broken several times over in the next ten years,” says Sam Blackledge. “If Test cricket still exists, that is.”

It’s absurd, isn’t it. The most magnificent thing, and it’s endangered. Society isn’t going to abolish booze, or sex, or The One Show, so what the hell does it think it’s playing at with Test cricket?

116th over of 139: SA 241-7 (Duminy 43, Philander 32)

Mitchell Johnson is asked to raise hell one final time, to prise out a couple of batsmen with the ageing ball. Philander leans into a flat-footed drive first ball, and there’s an audible intake of breath from the commentary box before the ball zips safely through mid-off. There will be a fair bit of criticism if Philander gets out playing an attacking stroke. I’m sure David Warner in particular would have an urgent observation on the subject. In fairness, Philander has played extremely well thus far in attack and defence. Most of the time, anyway; he gets in a fair tangle with a spiteful leg-side short ball from Johnson that zips through to Haddin.


115th over of 139: SA 239-7 (Duminy 43, Philander 30)

Self-funkification from the captain Michael Clarke, who brings himself into the attack. He has four round the bat for Duminy, who defends comfortably. This is getting deliciously tight.

“One thing that commentators fail to take into account when jumping on the bandwagon of negative declarations is that pitches just don’t deteriorate that much nowadays,” says Raghu Rathnam. “No sane captain would have declared with a target of around 400 to get at around 3 rpo.”

That’s true, and given the change in Test batsmanship I can’t work out why nobody has chased 450-plus. But the fact is they haven’t, and in that context – never mind Australia’s obvious superiority in this series – I reckon 511 was an excessive target. He could have declared maybe 8-10 overs earlier.


114th over of 139: SA 237-7 (Duminy 41, Philander 30)

Pattinson has crunched Philander on the glove with a head-high beamer! That was really nasty. Philander seems okay after some treatment; it wouldn’t have been at all surprising had he broken a finger. There’s one ball of the over remaining, and if Philander gets cleaned up here there will be plenty of resentment. He doesn’t. As you were. Right, there are 25 overs remaining, and it’s time to sound the Official OBO Squeaky-Bum Time Klaxon.

“Clarke gave them an impossible target so that they had to play for the draw. And normally if you play for the draw then you are more likely to stuff up. If they even had a whiff that they could win they would be even harder to get out. “

Not sure I agree with that - especially with this particular side, given the precedent of Adelaide - but I do agree that it’s quite a complicated issue and that there are a number of relevant factors: mental disintegration, the modern batsman’s need for the oxygen of runs, and so on. Didn’t Ricky Ponting set England a target of 632 at Brisbane in 2006? He didn’t need that many, but by batting on so long he crushed England’s spirit some more.


113th over of 139: SA 229-7 (Duminy 41, Philander 24)

Guess who’s back, back again; Steve Smith’s back, tell a friend. He has plenty of rough outside Duminy’s off stump with which to work. He also has a predilection for bowling half-trackers, one of which is pulled for four. A full toss is waved for another boundary, which brings up the fifty partnership in just 64 balls, and then another piece of rubbish is pulled to the fence. That won’t bother Australia. Runs are overrated.

“The Clever Clogs Captain...if he had any gumption, he would have declared 90 minutes before he did,” says David Toze. “And have told his batters before lunch on Day 4 to get on with it. Why would you think for a second that you needed the safety margin of a 500 run target? If this ends in a draw....we’ll see if those dimwit commentators have the courage to tell the truth!”

I’m sensing rancour.

112th over of 139: SA 217-7 (Duminy 29, Philander 24)

Pattinson bangs a short ball into Philander’s ribs – ooyah - and then goes up very late for LBW. Too high, though it was a fair enough appeal, the kind that has been on the Australian curriculum since McGrath v Tendulkar in 1999. Pattinson then goes wide on the crease and slips a huge reverse inswinger through a wild drive from Philander and just past off stump. It missed the off stump by millimetres. Yes, yes I think it might be reversing. This is disgustingly good sport.

111th over of 139: SA 216-7 (Duminy 28, Philander 24)

I think I was imagining reverse swing in the first few minutes after tea. In fact it’s doing very little now. Mark Nicholas says these are “amazingly friendly” batting conditions. Harris continues. If he was a horse … you wouldn’t know he needs shooting because he would be hiding his frailties brilliantly. Harris still tearing in with the usual interrogative purpose. Duminy and Philander defend well. South Africa need 299 from 28 overs to win this, an equation which will lead to some questions of Michael Clarke’s declaration should they fail to win.

110th over of 139: SA 212-7 (Duminy 26, Philander 23)

Philander is playing almost breezily, and drives Pattinson for two more. Mark Nicholas, on Sky, reckons Australia will be a bit worried by how little the ball has done in the 15 minutes since tea. Is something brilliant happening?

Here’s Ian Copestake. “I want South Africa to survive and deny Aussie gloating to the extent that I am prepared to play Boom Fatty Boom Boom on loop until the draw is secured.” But will dance nakedly around the room to it? How far will you go, Copestake? How much do you want it?


109th over of 139: SA 209-7 (Duminy 25, Philander 21)

There is a little reverse for Harris, though nothing dramatic and Philander has started nicely after tea. He averages 26 in his Test career, so he knows what he’s doing. But he has never batted in a situation like this.

“In terms of long winning streaks coming to an end, when did the great Australian side finally crumble?” says Sam Blackledge. “My hazy memory recalls them losing in an ODI to Bangladesh at the start of the 2005 Ashes tour, that was the moment we started to believe they could be beaten…”

With Australia it was staggered, because even at their best they lost a few Test series in Asia, whereas West Indies were unbeaten everywhere for 15 years. If you had to pick one moment when the baton was handed over, it was probably the 2008-09 defeat at home to South Africa. India might disagree with that, mind you.


108th over: South Africa 204-7 (Duminy 24, Philander 17)

James Pattinson, another splendid exponent of reverse swing, comes on at the other end. An attempted yorker to Philander is too straight and worked for a single, the most notable incident in the over. Two down, 31 to go for South Africa.

107th over: South Africa 201-7 (Duminy 22, Philander 16)

Ryan Harris starts after tea, and the first ball to Philander is pretty ominous for South Africa: it keeps low, reverses back and doesn’t miss off stump by too much. Harris, who dropped below his extremely high standards in the first two matches, has been just magnificent here - especially when you consider how weary his body must be after the unprecedented workload of eight Tests in three months, and that he goes for a knee operation on Tuesday. The word ‘champion’ was invented for someone like him. After a maiden to Philander, his figures are now 41-27-87-5. I have indeed seen worse.

“As an Australian, the suspense is killing me,” says Andrew James. “The Fear is In The Building.”

It’s worth repeating that South Africa have not lost a Test series for five years, which tells you how well Australia have played to get even this close. I doubt anything will ever top 1994-95. This would not be far behind though.

Tea: South Africa 201-7 (33 overs remaining)

Time for a mad canteen dash. See you in 15 minutes for the final session of his excellent series.


106th over: South Africa 201-7 (Duminy 22, Philander 16)

Johnson bangs in a short one to Philander, who top-edges a hook over the keeper’s head for six! Rearguard actions ain’t what they used to be. In fact the over goes for 13, with a force for three followed by a sharp delivery that swings down the leg side and is punched for four byes by Haddin. “Catch!” shouted Johnson, though I don’t think Duminy touched it. A solid forward defensive from Duminy ends a brilliant session.

“Thinking of Smith playing for Ireland, there must be somebody somewhere who has put a bet on KP being the next South African captain,” says Tom Bowtell. “Is it five years to re-re-qualify for the country of your birth?” I think that’s how long it took Ed Joyce but – strictly between us – I don’t really know what I’m talking about. KP’s knees will be completely gone in five years’ time, which is a shame as the prospect of watching him bat against Alastair Cook’s England is making me a little giddy.

105th over: South Africa 188-7 (Duminy 22, Philander 7)

Smith, the golden-armed goldenballs of this Australian side, continues to mix filth, jaffas and very occasional straight ones. He’s a mind**** of a bowler; you never know what’s going on or whether the full tosses are part of some grand plan.

“I thought I’d share another of my favourite rearguard innings with you,” says Alexander Mason. “It has to be Toady on Neighbours over the past 10 years. Surely everyone knows the situation is hopeless for that show, yet there he is, week in week out, as if he was the De Villiers of the cast tasked with keeping the dream alive.”

Is he really? Talk about being typecast. I suppose it could be worse in that regard; he could be James Van Der Beek.


104th over: South Africa 187-7 (Duminy 22, Philander 6)

Duminy slams a pull for four off Johnson and then works another boundary round the corner. Runs, schmuns, he’s survived six balls. There are just under 10 minutes remaining before tea. For reference, England were seven down at tea in Test cricket’s most recent heart-stopper – at Auckland a year ago – but I’m not sure South Africa have much chance of a similar escape here. If they do pull it off, JP Duminy will never have to buy another nutritious juice-based sports drink in his life.

“That graphic showing the partnerships looks like a guillotine coming down on a man and as I typed the word ‘guillotine’ just then Smith took that wicket,” writes my colleague Russell Jackson. “Lesson: death is inevitable and death is good.”

103rd over: South Africa 179-7 (Duminy 14, Philander 6)

It was a decent enough delivery from Smith, though nothing special. It pitched on middle and leg; du Plessis got a fair way forward but pushed defensively, almost absent-mindedly, down the wrong line and ended up dragging his bat across his front pad. What a moment. When it’s your time, stuff like this happens. The replays shows Australia’s celebrations, with Faf du Plessis receiving an almost comically sour-faced send-off from ... you know exactly who from.

WICKET! South Africa 173-7 (du Plessis LBW b Smith 47)

Did it pitch outside leg? That is the key because everything else is fine. Du Plessis reviewed it instantly. He’s out! It pitched on middle and leg. That is a sensational plot twist. Steve Smith - Steve Bloody Smith - has slain the Adelaide bogeyman, and Michael Clarke has done it yet again with an unexpected bowling change. He is a sick, twisted captaincy genius.


WICKET! South Africa 173-7 (du Plessis LBW b Smith 47)

Steve Smith strikes first ball, though Faf du Plessis has reviewed it.


102nd over: South Africa 173-6 (du Plessis 47, Duminy 14)

The entire series could be decided on whether this ball reverse swings. It’s fascinating how something that nobody can completely explain or control has such an influence. No reverse for Johnson, with Duminy jumping inside the line of a short ball and steering it for four. Twenty minutes to tea LOOK TEST CRICKET IS SO BLOODY GOOD IF ANYONE KILLS IT OFF I’LL RIP THEIR NOGGIN OFF WITH MY BARE HANDS.

“Looking for a big man to lead from the front?” says James Purkis.; I reckon that South Africa should check on this guy’s nationality. The most compelling performance I’ve seen in ages. And ages.”

He/they are magnificent, especially this song.


101st over: South Africa 168-6 (du Plessis 46, Duminy 10)

Lyon continues. Nothing happens. But it might now because Mitchell Johnson is coming back.

“Forget the computer rankings,” sniffs Martin Gillam. “If Australia win this who is the best team in the world? And 2 and 3 for that matter?” Right now: Australia, South Africa, India. I know their away record is hopeless but you could say that about everyone bar Australia and South Africa in recent times. That said, you could make a case for Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and even England being No3.


100th over: South Africa 168-6 (du Plessis 46, Duminy 10)

Haddin is standing up to the stumps for Watson in an attempt to get in du Plessis’s space and in his head. No dice, soldier, or at least not for the time being: it’s a Shane Watson maiden.

“More than heroes, it’s the villains that we need to identify,” says Raghu Rathnam. “When do we start pointing fingers at Doolan for his Ravi Shastri impression (not just playing slow, but playing slow when the exact opposite is required) in yesterdays morning session. I think it’s time we start now.”

Clarke will regret that unusually careful declaration if South Africa end the match nine down and 300 runs short of their target.

99th over: South Africa 168-6 (du Plessis 46, Duminy 10)

Lyon and the rest of the Australian team are a quarter of the way through a huge LBW appeal against Duminy when their brains register that there was a last-gasp inside edge. He would have been plumb. This is utterly compelling stuff, and South Africa are scoring at 1.69 runs per over.

“Do you know if the half-Irish Graeme Smith can represent the full Irish ODI team?” says Niall Mullen. “I imagine we’d get to the WC semi-final before losing in a ludicrous fashion.”

I assume he could in five years’ time if he wanted, although – strictly between us – I don’t really have a clue what I’m talking about.

98th over: South Africa 168-6 (du Plessis 46, Duminy 10)

Watson has changed ends. He’s grunting almost every delivery. Michael Clarke is playing some slap-bass, with a seriously funky field: two slips, two gullies (I think), short leg, short mid-on just off the cut strip. One from the over.

“I have just one question: where is Ashton Agar?” asks Deepak. “We should be seeing a lot more of him. That guy was the reason I watched both of last years Ashes, although he only featured in two matches. Last I heard, he’s been suspended from playing for Western Australia for showing dissent. I hope he did it while smiling all the time.”

You haven’t heard? Ashton Agar doesn’t exist. He was an imaginary vision of perfect innocence created by David Lynch.

97th over: South Africa 167-6 (du Plessis 45, Duminy 10)

Nathan Lyon comes on for Shane Watson. He has slip, silly point, leg slip and short leg. He’s even bowling over the wicket to the right-hander! I’ve seen everything now. A single gives the strike to Duminy, who pushes a full toss down the ground for four. Lyon is a fine, crafty bowler but you wonder if he is psychologically more comfortable as the underdog. His average in the fourth innings of a Test, when a spinner is expected to prevail, is 35.41 with a strike rate of 77.

“Think of the greatest Test match turnarounds yet to come!” says Ian Copestake. “From England’s nadir at the hands of a resurgent Aussie side, to their own turn at resurging based on a host of sudden rule changes and fixture cancellations affecting all the other nations and following their own controversial victory in Dubai. Leaving them the only unbeaten side in the whole of 2015. Mark my words we will be briefly top of the pile once again. Soonish.”

It’s on!

96th over: South Africa 163-6 (du Plessis 45, Duminy 6)

Sarah Selvey, wife of our cricket correspondent Lord Mike, is running a half marathon on Sunday in memory of her brother David, who died a year ago of Cholangiocarcinoma. Here’s the link for those who wish to donate.

Pattinson goes for seven from two balls, with du Plessis steering three and Duminy pulling confidently for four. It’s free admission at the ground, apparently. If you live nearby, what the hell are you doing reading this?


95th over: South Africa 156-6 (du Plessis 42, Duminy 2)

Watson continues. It’s a surprise that Lyon has bowled only 16 overs. You would think South Africa need these two to be at the crease at tea to have a realistic chance of pulling this off. Watson is making the batsmen play at most deliveries, as you’d expect, though du Plessis and Duminy look comfortable enough for now. The new ball is 15 overs old, so we’re slowly moving towards the chance of reverse swing.

94th over: South Africa 155-6 (du Plessis 41, Duminy 2)

“You say there has never been a turnaround like this in Test history,” says Gavin Byrne. “Interesting discussion, perhaps? How about the 1976 Windies side, clobbered 5-1 in Australia ’75-’76 then pretty much went straight from that to beating Greig’s England 3-0 away. Or how about Benaud’s ’58 team? 4-0 Ashes winners as heavy underdogs and after three successive Ashes series defeats? Oh, and the ‘89 side of course!”

I did wonder about WI in 1975-76, especially given Clive Lloyd’s change in mindset, but they had the 2-1 win over India between the tours of Australia and England.

To go from losing seven Tests in nine - and particularly the shocking nadir of Lord’s - to administering one of sport’s most emphatic thrashings and then potentially winning away to the undisputed world No1... that’s pretty hard to beat.

The 1989 side is a good one, though England were utterly useless and there were signs that something was stirring in the previous series at home to the West Indies. Even if nobody in England recognised those signs.


93rd over: South Africa 151-6 (du Plessis 38, Duminy 1)

Shane Watson comes on for Ryan Harris. He’ll make the batsmen play. I know this is the kind of observation that could only be made by an incorrigible maverick, but I reckon Watson might bowl some maidens here. Or perhaps not: when Watson digs in a gentle bouncer, du Plessis swivel pulls smoothly for four. Who needs a drink? The players, and the cricket-loving population of Australia and South Africa.

“Your sympathy for Duminy’s neck put me in mind of a game last season in which I stood too close to the batsman in the slips,” says Ian Copestake. “Slips was an alien position to me anyway as I was usually more comfortable scoring, but when a flashed-at edge hurtled towards my head it came at me so fast that my hands remained pretty much between my knees (the faux position of being ready to fling myself into action) and all I felt was the ball actually kiss the side of my neck with a light and almost erotic butterf ... anyway, I felt it go past my neck. At great speed.”


92nd over: South Africa 147-6 (du Plessis 34, Duminy 1)

Pattinson hasn’t yet made the batsmen play enough. In fact Duminy, who now has 1 from 26 balls, is able to leave almost everything during that over.

“Dear Henry Philpotts, stop trying to jinx us,” says James Lane. “This game is by no means settled, not while He Who Shall Not Be Named is at the crease. Incidentally, does Oz have the option of another half hour if the Saffers are 7-down at the close?”

Not on the final day. Once the overs are done, that’s it. There are around 47 remaining. You’ll be fine. As for FRANCOIS “FAF” DU PLESSIS, how comforting to know England fans aren’t the only ones with a traumatic, Macbeth-referencing Adelaide memory.


91st over: South Africa 147-6 (du Plessis 34, Duminy 1)

A dangerous nipbacker from Harris takes du Plessis’ inside edge and scoots just past the leg stump. He is bowling majestically, a bowling machine with a human snarl. The moment I type that, of course, he strays onto the pads and is clipped for four.

“Forget the flipper,” says Sam Clarke. “It’s the Steve Smith rank full toss that’ll spell the end for this rearguard. His bowling is so hilariously bad, I think batsmen get bamboozled by the sheer stupidity of it. Ian Bell in the Ashes, classic example.”

He does bowl the occasional jaffa as well, which probably adds to the batsman’s confusion.

90th over: South Africa 139-6 (du Plessis 26, Duminy 1)

Pattinson replaces Johnson. Duminy really needs to put that pull stroke away; he drags another onto his body and receives some hard-faced technical advice from Pattinson.

“Assuming Australia complete a series win here, the first team in a long time to win away, and against much of the pre-series expectation, how will history rate them?” says Brendan Jones. “Not one of the greats, but a very good team where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts? A merely good team that had a lucky purple patch? An ordinary team carried by two or three individuals who had the form of their lives? Genuinely interested.”

I reckon they will be remembered as a team who, for one season, achieved a greatness which was sparked by one of the great purple patches of fast bowling, but which we will never fully understand. There has never been a turnaround like this in Test history.

89th over: South Africa 138-6 (du Plessis 25, Duminy 1)

Harris’s second delivery with the second new ball went for four. Since then we’ve had 26 dot balls, two singles, and the wicket of de Villiers. His line and length have been superb, the consequence of his experience and calmness.

“Am I the only Englishman with an unexpected sense of loss now ABDV has gone, and with him the series draw?” says Henry Philpotts. “It’s as if an Aussie GP is treating a deep and terrible Ashes wound with some saline solution. I’m not sure I can face another period of Aussie dominance again so soon!”

I’m not sure this signals a period of dominance – Harris is 34 and Johnson 32. But they have played some awesome cricket this winter, particularly in this series, and I wouldn’t begrudge them this victory. Not even that supervillain Warner.

88th over: South Africa 137-6 (du Plessis 24, Duminy 1)

Duminy just about ducks under a skiddy, vicious bouncer from Johnson. That was seriously close to doing something nasty to his neck, or his helmet. It has the desired effect nonetheless when the rattled Duminy plays a dreadful flick-pull next ball, dragging it onto his body and short of Doolan at short leg. A stunning over from Johnson, who then almost dupes Duminy with the slower ball. The 130kph slower ball, as a laughing Shaun Pollock points out on commentary.

87th over: South Africa 137-6 (du Plessis 24, Duminy 1)

Australia seem more relaxed in the field now. It’s so important in these situations not to search for wickets. Harris is far too grizzled to make such a basic error: he is bowling with beautiful orthodoxy. Duminy does well to drop a short ball at his feet and then gets off the mark with a single.

“Can any other sport encompass a contrast like that between the innings Shahid Afridi played yesterday and the innings AB De Villiers played today?” says Gary Naylor. “Maybe Speed Chess and Championship Chess, but maybe not even that difference is so great. It’s a pity that the blandest middle ground is likely to be on show later today in the er... all-important decider between England and West Indies.”

Is that today? Crikey I had no idea. Great point though, and it’s even more amazing that de Villiers did it in consecutive innings in Australia in 2012: 33 from 220 followed by 169 from 184! That is crazy.

86th over: South Africa 136-6 (du Plessis 24, Duminy 0)

“I’m not entirely sure what to make of Graeme Smith’s departure,” says Emil Levendoglu. “Speculation here says it’s because he wants to spend more time with his young family, but you can’t help thinking he’s getting out before this team hits the skids.”

I think that’s an extremely harsh interpretation. Test captains in particular wear such a burden that, when it goes, it goes quickly, and they know they have nothing left to give. I know he’s 33, but in real terms, given all he has been through, he’s nearer 43.


85th over: South Africa 136-6 (du Plessis 24, Duminy 0)

Press F5 if you want a full, award-winning description of the wicket. (We have a problem with the auto-refresh.) Harris rams a short ball into the body of the ducking Duminy, and even appeals for LBW. A wicket maiden from Harris, whose figures are not the worst: 15-11-14-2.

“I’d like to contribute something very intelligent to the OBO relating to this Test and series, the brilliance of Johnson, Clarke, de Villiers etc,” says Steve Pye, “but I’ve just heard Sale of the Century by Sleeper on Absolute 90s, and I can’t concentrate as I’ve got Louise Wener in my head.”


WICKET! South Africa 136-6 (de Villiers c Haddin b Harris 43)

This is a masterful, forensic new-ball spell from Harris – and now he’s got the big wicket of de Villiers! The previous delivery went past the outside edge. The follow-up was an immaculate channel ball that moved fractionally off the seam to take the edge on its way through to Brad Haddin. De Villiers demonstrated another layer of his brilliance in surviving 228 balls for 43. With him, surely, goes South Africa’s chance of avoiding defeat in this match.


84th over: South Africa 136-5 (de Villiers 43, du Plessis 20)

De Villiers has 43 from 226 balls at a strike rate of 19. There have been some intriguingly slow innings from attacking batsmen down the years, usually to save a game: Aravinda de Silva made 27 from 191 balls, Sir Ian Botham made 51 from 209 balls – and Chris Gayle, ridiculously, once made 32 from 180 balls in a Test match. And West Indies weren’t even batting to save the game! Perhaps he actually fell asleep at the crease.

Meanwhile, Faf du Plessis pulls Johnson confidently for four. As the commentators have just said, Johnson won’t mind that – runs are irrelevant and it only takes one mistake. Mind you, Australia will be a little worried by the relative lack of movement with the new ball. A couple from Harris have deviated but that’s all. This is wonderful cricket. How’s your ticker?

83rd over: South Africa 132-5 (de Villiers 43, du Plessis 20)

A gorgeous delivery from Harris snaps off the seam and past de Villiers’ outside edge. I thought he’d nicked it. Harris is a wonderful new-ball interrogator, and that’s a maiden, his 10th in 14 overs.

82nd over: South Africa 132-5 (de Villiers 43, du Plessis 20)

It’ll be Mitchell Johnson from the other end. Of course it will. Can he produce one last spell to complete the greatest summer of his life? It would be the most appropriate ending, though sport rarely cares for what would be appropriate or fitting. If it did Graeme Smith would be at the crease.

Johnson has five slips, a short leg and a leg gully for du Plessis, who tries to hook a short ball and underedges it short of Brad Haddin. That was a poor stroke both in conception and execution – he was so early on the shot that it actually came off the toe end of the bat. The next ball is driven classily for four off the back foot. De Villiers, by the way, has now faced 220 deliveries, the same as at Adelaide. He’s racing along here: he has 43 runs, as compared to 33 in that match.


81st over: South Africa 126-5 (de Villiers 43, du Plessis 14)

Ryan Harris starts the afternoon session with a new ball in his farmer’s hands. AB de Villiers clips the second delivery through midwicket for four. Runs are almost entirely irrelevant, certainly to de Villiers, who has shown he can cope defensively without the oxygen of runs. This next 40 minutes is elephantine. If South Africa get through it, Australia will feel the first significant stirrings of The Fear. But if they pick up one of these batsmen, particularly de Villiers, they could run through the lower order with the hard new ball.

Harris has an absurd LBW appeal against de Villiers turned down – it pitched outside leg from over the wicket and kept going – but then beats the outside edge with an immaculate delivery.

Hello. With the possible exception of being kicked in the swingers at the precise moment Mark Waugh connects with an on-drive, there’s nothing in cricket to compare with the exquisite torture of the last-day rearguard. Fans of the batting side are taunted by a stopped clock; fans of the bowling side are driven doolally by flying time. Such fraught last days were a defining feature of the wonderful England side of 2009-13. What a pleasure, then, to finally experience one of them as a neutral – on the sofa with a sugar free strawberry Volvic in hand rather than behind it with ever shortening nails.

This rearguard will not just decide a match; it will decide arguably the biggest series in world cricket since 2005. The likeliest scenario is that Australia will wrap this up just before or just after tea. South Africa still have much work to do if they are give Adelaide 2012 a sibling.

They resume on 122 for five; crucially, the new ball is due straight away. The heroes of Adelaide, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, are at the crease and will face the incomparable good cop/bad cop routine of Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson. South Africa have a bit of batting to come – Duminy, Philander, Steyn, Morkel – but they can probably only afford to lose one wicket in this session.

It’s evening in Australia, isn’t it? Then you’ll need some booze to help you get through this. It’s lunchtime in South Africa, isn’t it? Then you’ll need some booze to help you get through this.


The Rob Smyth dream...

Anyway, like I said, I had this dream two nights before I did my very first OBO earlier in the summer. I think it was sparked by a conversation with our legendary editor Tom Lutz, who mentioned how much the OBO meant to everyone who took part in it. As a fan myself, I already knew this, but it must have re-emphasized the point to the level of paranoia because I drifted off to sleep and then...

I walk into a seaside house (50’s, not quite modernist, a bit try-hard modernist), turn left into the living room which is empty but for two LA-Z-BOY recliners and a photo frame above a cultured stone fireplace. In it is a photo of Rob Smyth calling for a run in a game of village cricket, only he has hair like that bloke in River Cottage (I think there was a cricket themed episode of that at some point so this makes vague sense). Anyway, just as I take that in, I turn around and spot a little coffee table with a copy of American Psycho (the book), which has been well-thumbed but for some reason, has also been sealed in plastic shrink wrap (the kind in which that book actually had to be sold in stores). That strikes me as odd but I’m soon mortified to see that I’ve walked dog crap through the entire living room.

That is the point at which I wake up. The symbolism is quite clear, I think. I feared walking shit through the house of OBO. I’m sorry Rob, I’ll clean it up. Anyway, I guess that says something of the impact the OBO can have on the psyche. My position in it right now is a bit like when Gary Numan married a member of his own fan club. The being Gary Numan.

With that, the weirdest introduction ever, please welcome Rob Smyth to the podium.

80th over: South Africa 121-5 (de Villiers 39, du Plessis 14) - and that is lunch

It’s Steve Smith who gets the final crack at de Villiers before lunch. He’s getting no small amount of dip and turn but de Villiers gets off strike and then du Plessis gets full toss off the final delivery, which comes out of the blue and is duly called as a no ball. A more conventional leg break finishes things off and the Proteas pair are undefeated for now. AB de Villiers is past the five hour mark and I’m approaching the three hour mark, so I’ll be handing you over to Rob now.

Actually, I have to tell you about my Rob Smyth dream don’t I?


79th over: South Africa 120-5 (de Villiers 38, du Plessis 14)

Bruce Higham has an unusual selection in the “bat for your life” game. “Definitely Doolan. I’m feeling miserable,” he says.

Nathan Lyon might not be miserable but again he looks unlikely to take a wicket in a fairly uneventful maiden over. There will be one more over until the lunch break, when you’ll be joined by Rob Smyth.


78th over: South Africa 120-5 (de Villiers 38, du Plessis 14)

Fred Hatman is no great fan of mental disintegration.

“Oh, to be a stump mic. I have no doubt Faf and AB know how to handle themselves among this lovely bunch of Aussie blokes, who appear to be clinging steadfastly to playing within the Spirit of The Game, but, ooh, I just can’t help myself wishing Bakkies Botha and Schalk Burger were at the crease right now. Mind you, they might be better deployed at the Aussie team coach in the carpark at the end of play today. Not that I’m suggesting anything untoward should happen to our Antipodean visitors, model tourists that they are. I had better get to my punchbag. Ta-ra!”

The Proteas are no shrinking violets Fred, surely? I think all is fair in love and cricket.


77th over: South Africa 120-5 (de Villiers 38, du Plessis 14)

Nathan Lyon keeps throwing them up to de Villiers and this poses an interesting question; will the offie contribute to a fifth day win here or will we see him reprise his role in the Faf du Plessis day five heroics at Adelaide, where Lyon just couldn’t land a killer blow? Going in his favour now is that he’s slowed it down a little, is tossing it up and to du Plessis, even moving around the wicket. He’s a lot more comfortable in his own skin at this point in his career, I would guess.

76th over: South Africa 120-5 (de Villiers 38, du Plessis 14)

Michael Clarke is back now and raking up memories of Allan Border’s canny left arm spin, though the latter was much more jaunty in his approach to the crease and, dare I say it, a bit more of a wicket taker. Dropping one a little short, Clarke is cut hard through cover by de Villiers.

75th over: South Africa 116-5 (de Villiers 34, du Plessis 14)

Just for something completely different, Nathan Lyon bowls a maiden. I’m trying to think of new things to say about Nathan Lyon maidens but as you would appreciate, one is often much like the other.

74th over: South Africa 116-5 (de Villiers 34, du Plessis 14)

With 20 minutes left before lunch Clarke has decided that the temptation to unleash Steve SMith is too great. The leggie duly sends the most unbelievably rubbish half-tracker which de Villiers creams through mid-wicket for a boundary.

There is drama when the umpires call Michael Clarke in to discuss the condition of the ball with the rough implication being that the Aussies are bouncing the ball in to the keeper in order to rough it up for reverse swing. The brevity of the conference suggests there’s not much evidence for the prosecution to work with. Good luck on getting a conviction there, guys.

Robert Wilson has a thought. “EXCELLENT zoolander clip! I don’t mean to paranoid or anything - and they’re clearly lovely people, but is no one finding some of these OBOer names...suspiciously unfeasible? Steerforth, Starbuck? And don’t start me on Geoff Lemon. I mean, come on. What’s next? Pickwick, Picard, Bolkonsky? I think at least one of them is Will Self, gripped in some modernist experiment nightmare.”

I’d be so thrilled if Will Self was secretly writing in to the OBO. Will, if you are, not only do I enjoy your books but I really liked that thing you wrote about oysters about 10 years ago in an otherwise rubbish men’s magazine (cannot for the life of me remember which one).

73rd over: South Africa 112-5 (de Villiers 30, du Plessis 14)

Pattinson is looking fit as a fiddle upon his return to Test cricket and he’s getting the full support of his captain with some very attacking field placings as the Aussies try to prize out this important pair. There’s even a leg gully to du Plessis but the latter gets a juicy half volley that’s mere fodder for a tidy drive through mid-off for four.

72nd over: South Africa 104-5 (de Villiers 28, du Plessis 7)

The Aussies are so keen to be rid of du Plessis that they go up in chorus for a frankly implausible LBW shout that was missing off stump by a long, long way. Even Brad Haddin isn’t interested in reviewing it, which is a far more damning indictment than the hawk-eye reading that follows. du Plessis gets off strike by pulling three to deep square leg.

Johnson is proving a handful now and nearly has de Villiers batting one down to Doolan at short leg. Nervous moments aplenty in that over.


71st over: South Africa 101-5 (de Villiers 28, du Plessis 4)

It’s worth mentioning that the verbal barrage against du Plessis is showing no signs of calming down. The broadcaster is relaying some of it, paired with entirely hypocritical condemnations from the local commentary team, who possibly don’t appreciate the irony of their objections.

Pattinson is called for a wide when he sends a bouncer wastefully high over de Villiers’ head and it’s not until the final delivery that the bowler threatens with sharp movement in to cramp e Villiers into a crumpled defensive stroke that’s all stiff legs and desperate clamping of the bat.

70th over: South Africa 100-5 (de Villiers 28, du Plessis 4)

de Plessis takes a single off Johnson, which means he’s rattling on at a prolific scoring rate compared to his partner. That must spur de Villiers on because he nudges one himself to keep the strike.

It’s nice to see JOHN STARBUCK back on two feet again (well I can’t see him, but I assume he is). He asks, “Obviously it’s your Aussie jokes that does the trick and takes wickets. Or it could be the foul-up in the overs numbering department, which evidently created a space-time anomaly so that something highly unlikely could happen.” Hang on, I have it running reasonably smoothly so far. It’s actually the hardest thing about doing the OBO. Maddeningly so and yet entirely controllable. Like NBA players who have free-throw shooting percentages under 40.

69th over: South Africa 98-5 (de Villiers 28, du Plessis 3)

At the risk of outright heresy, I feel like it’s going to be Pattinson who steps up today and not Johnson. He has it tailing in beautifully to the right handers and if he can get the odd one to go the other way it might be letheal. I wasn’t exactly sold on the idea of dropping Siddle, as tired as he looked, but Pattinson has earned his keep in this encounter.

Danielle Tolson asks, “Just wondering after Robert Wilson’s email (65th) over about your Rob Smyth, you didn’t dream that he was Robin Smith did you? or vice versa?” No, but I think I have already told everyone (ad nauseam) about the time I sat next to Robin Smith on a train but couldn’t think of anything to say to him. Cracking anecdote. I think I’ll just keep retelling it on every single OBO until they pull the plug on me.

68th over: South Africa 98-5 (de Villiers 28, du Plessis 3)

With the appearance of Faf we see an inevitable return to the attack for Mitch Johnson from the Wynberg End. He has four slips, a gully and a short leg to du Plessis and a sharp bouncer gets uncomfortably big on the batsman. He only just manages to bat it down past Doolan at short leg in a very close call. With 45 minutes to go before lunch du Plessis probably has his partner double-taking when he attempts a very optimistic pull shot at one he might have left alone.

Johnson is into him between balls as well and it doesn’t look all that friendly a conversation. “How does the Abbot 7 rate against the Quiney 9? Do we have a new high-water mark for low tides?” asks Nick Toovey, who clearly doesn’t rate the Quiney nine as a unit of measurement in the way I do. AB de Villiers just passed his triple Quiney, actually.

67th over: South Africa 98-5 (de Villiers 28, du Plessis 3)

As Faf du Plessis wanders forebodingly to the crease the Aussies think they’re in with a big sniff of claiming him early, so immediately deploy their verbal firing squad. The batsman has other ideas and punches Pattinson down through the vacant mid-on region to pick up three runs. The last ball of the over might be cause for mild concern for the batting pair because it’s dug in short but keeps very low.

WICKET! Abbott b Pattinson 7 (South Africa 95-5)

Pattinson comes into the attack and the move reaps immediate rewards when Abbott leaves an in-ducker that slides in to take his unprotected off stump. Now for the marathon man du Plessis...

66th over: South Africa 95-4 (de Villiers 28, Abbott 7)

Clarke, evidently free of back soreness, tries to conjure something out of the rough again. It’s not the worst ploy as he’s had de Villiers adopting slightly unorthodox methods of wicket preservation a number of times already. The left-handed trajectory might reap rewards after all.

Andrew Walsh sends in this example of the kind of joke the Aussies are telling (original source here) and it’s...well...not Perrier Award stuff. “On the last morning in Perth, physiotherapist Alex Kountouris was up. After a long preamble, it came to this: Q: What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back? A: A stick. Yes, you had to be there. It went down so well that Kountouris might now lay claim to it as the joke that won the Ashes.”


65th over: South Africa 95-4 (de Villiers 28, Abbott 7)

Lyon goes a bit rogue and concedes a single to de Villiers. Right as he does so, Robert Wilson goes rogue in another manner. “This is so sad,” he says. “For days I’ve been busting a gut to get things done and clear a few hours today when i could watch this fabulous, fabulous match without facing actual redundancy. Today comes and no functioning feeds. I’m in Paris so if I switch on a TV, it’s all Fashion Week updates but, you know, rather light on the cricket reports. I could cry. Paint me a picture and DON’T forget the Robin Smith dream. I hate Fashion Week!”

Get in the spirit, Robert.


64th over: South Africa 94-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 7)

Captain Clarke brings himself on and thus the maiden streak is broken. He concedes a single to Abbott and then has AB de Villiers in unlikely LBW trouble before the batsman gets off strike with a leg bye. That was some sharp turn out of the rough from the Aussies skipper.

63rd over: South Africa 92-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 6)

Brian from Munich is thinking big. “At the risk of putting a curse on AB it should be noted that the slowest ever test century by a South African was off 325 ball (A.J Hall vs India 2004/5, while the all time record stands at 419 by Mudassar Nazar. With some 440+ balls still to be bowled and AB already having faced 150+ he could yet reach such heights. But I wonder what the longest test innings is for someone who did not reach a century?” Ooh, I’m flat out trying to keep the score right, can someone else check for me?

I’m not doing as bad as Pommie Mbangwa though. He just said that South Africa have plunged under a run an over now. I’m not sure how well Pommie did in maths, but I’m assuming he wasn’t Dux.

Lyon bowls another maiden. Of course he does.

62nd over: South Africa 92-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 6)

Smith continues after the break and Abbott is possibly sick of David Warner in at silly point because he rocks onto the back foot and smacks one straight at the fieldsman with a straight bat. Surprise surprise, it’s another maiden.

61st over: South Africa 92-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 6)

Fred Hatman is thinking of the future. “After hearing Mark Nicholas and HD Ackerman grapple with the number of functions AB should perform in a future SA set-up, I offer this possible post-Smith Proteas team,” he says.

It’s as follows: “A Petersen, D Elgar, H Amla (v-capt), AB de Villiers (capt), F du Plessis, JP Duminy, Q de Kock (wk), K Abbott, V Philander, D Steyn, M Morkel (Imran Tahir to replace Abbott on tours to the sub-continent). What do others think?”

I think Alviro Petersen is starting to look like roadkill, Fred. I think you’re right on de Kock keeping, though. What chance is there that de Villiers will do a Sangakkara and become even better with the bat once relieved of ‘keeping duties? He’s also a dynamic fieldsman and could actually add something in the field. The Proteas are slightly lacking in that regard, actually.

As I say this, the players take a drinks break and so might I.


60th over: South Africa 92-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 6)

There’s a beautiful moment at the start of Smith’s next over when he beats Abbott with a beautiful, sharp-turning leg break and then the batsman extravagantly leaves the next as if to say, “I am actually an expert at this, you know.” Less beautiful is a throw that Smith fires back in the direction of the batsman’s head, which prompts a wave of apology for the bowler but one might question the sincerity.

59th over: South Africa 92-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 6)

Lyon is forcing de Villiers to really move around the crease in this over; drawing him forward just as often as he sends him scurrying back. He bowls a maiden and it’s no secret that there’ll be a few of those today.

58th over: South Africa 92-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 6)

Kyle Abbott gets some reward for his stout resistance when Smith dishes him up a juicy full toss that even has David Warner ducking for cover. He smashes it for a well-earned boundary.

As all this is happening Andrew Walsh sends me a replacement sound effect to be subbed in for the cannon. It’s a fart sound. I’ll just let you do your best equivalent at home but his was a beauty.

“Warnie is most certainly into knock knockers,” says James Steerforth, and I think he’s still talking about the jokes.

57th over: South Africa 88-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 2)

Lyon has his first proper attempt at trying to extract de Villiers and he reigns in the tricks a little to start with. A big turner to finish the over draws a spirited appeal when de Villiers shoulder arms but it was a fair way outside the line and mightn’t have hit a fourth stump.

56th over: South Africa 88-4 (de Villiers 27, Abbott 2)

A filthy Steve Smith wicket already? Michael Clarke thinks so and brings the slightly less famous blonde leg-spinner on for a trundle. A starts by conceding a single with a long hop and it’s a typical mixed bag thereafter with one decent wrong ‘un and a whole heap of trash mixed together to form a potent and intoxicating cocktail of park-grade spin.

Arvind Ramanan has a “bat for your life” entry, sort of. “Please bear in mind that that no.1 bat for your life guy ever in the history of cricket is Rohit Sharma...i.e. if your life is devoid of any meaning. If the cause is inconsequential, he will score a hundred. If there is even a smidgen of meaning to the encounter, expect three classy boundaries and a daft dismissal.”

55th over: South Africa 87-4 (de Villiers 26, Abbott 2)

With the Australians again forming a complete circle around Abbott, it’s David Warner’s turn to provide some laughs (for me, anyway) when he dives in kamikaze style across the which to retrieve a ball Abbott had comprehensively smother with a forward defence. Warner looks like a maniac and is stepping in to dive right as the ball arrives at Abbott’s bat. Every time. It’s bordering on distracting to the batsman, surely?

54th over: South Africa 87-4 (de Villiers 26, Abbott 2)

Now de Villiers is doing that vaguely disconcerting thing where he appears to be smiling maniacally but he’s actually just trying to concentrate. With three slips, a gully and men in short either side of him, de Villiers is negotiating Johnson with relative ease.

As he does that, Shane Warne is down on the boundary joking around with Nathan Lyon, perhaps under the instructions or Mr Chuckles himself, Darren Lehmann. I actually wouldn’t mind some of these jokes that are going down every day in the Aussie sheds. Who is telling Dad Jokes? Who is going blue? Who’s a bit cerebral? Are there any Steven Wright’s in the touring party? I think I know roughly which category Warnie sits in...

53rd over: South Africa 87-4 (de Villiers 26, Abbott 2)

To Abbott, Lyon has two slips, a man at bat-pad on the off and leg sides, plus a leg gully and a short mid-wicket. Soon another short leg is added and the sight would be comical if there wasn’t so much at stake. Abbott survives the over to the wry grins of the Aussies who’d formed an intimidating kind of huddle around.

“Surely the go to “bat for your life” guy today is still Shiv Chanderpaul?” says Ravi Nair, and that’s not a bad shout.

52nd over: South Africa 87-4 (de Villiers 26, Abbott 2)

Johnson arcs up again and flings them at de Villiers from around the wicket but the Proteas’ batting lynch-pin looks predictably focused today. His natural attacking instincts have taken a back seat and abstinence is the name of the game for now. I guess he’ll hope that the Australians, leg-weary from a seemingly endless summer will flag in the later sessions. Still, a half tracker is a half tracker and when Johnson transgresses he’s punching one through the covers beautifully off the back foot to pick up a boundary.

Is de Villiers the number one “bat for your life” guy currently playing cricket? If not, who?

51st over: South Africa 83-4 (de Villiers 22, Abbott 2)

Clarke refuses to sit on his hands here so brings Lyon on from the Kelvin Grove End. He starts by conceding a single to de Villiers but that brings something more pertinent to out attention; Kyle Abbott does not look at all comfortable playing spin. Lyon senses a wicket here.

Sarah Bacon has the skinny on the Michael Bay style sound effects that accompany boundaries. “Just so you know: the cannon crap is courtesy of TEN Cricket, an Indian broadcaster,” she explains. “Methinks they are so against Test cricket they are doing anything to try and get eyeballs on the non-T20 stuff. Which is pathetic when you consider what a fantastic series this has proven to be ...” It really is dross.

50th over: South Africa 82-4 (de Villiers 21, Abbott 2)

Abbott continues to frustrate Johnson for another over. His homespun forward defence is not much to look at but it’s effective against a probing examination from the Aussie.

“Please lets all get our ab compliments out of our system we don’t want to curse him do we?” says Tafadzwa Muchena who writes from Zimbabwe. I am stabbing a voodoo doll with my free hand actually, Tafadzwa.

49th over: South Africa 82-4 (de Villiers 21, Abbott 2)

Harris continues and bowls a snorter to de Villiers. It’s a steepling bouncer that forces a kind of judo jump, from which a shoulder deflection sends the ball to the fine leg boundary. Harris has 1-10 from 12 overs, by the way. An attacking run miser. The whole of Australia has to be hoping that this won’t be the last they see of him.

Meanwhile, I just unfollowed someone on Twitter for saying that this is boring. So there, take that.

Dean Laffan is not a fan of the cannon. “I’d like o get my hands on the work experience boofhead who decided that the Foxtel Super-Slo Mo replays need a cannon sound when the ball impacts the bat ... ggrrrrrr,” he says. I think it’s the South African broadcaster, Dean.

48th over: South Africa 78-4 (de Villiers 21, Abbott 2)

Johnson is on from the Wynberg End now to replace Pattinson and with 58 wickets at 14.45 this summer, he’ll fancy a crack at Abbott. There are two catching men in close on the leg side, a conventional short leg and also a slightly deeper backward square leg, plus a slips cordon that suggests the Aussies don’t fancy his stroke-making capabilities.

Johnson’s final delivery goes searing past the edge of a nervously-prodded bat but Abbott survives.

47th over: South Africa 78-4 (de Villiers 21, Abbott 2)

I love the faces Ryan Harris pulls at the end of his follow through. When de Villiers gets forward and defends he gives him a weary grimace that seems to say, “why don’t you just edge one or kick your stumps over so we can go and have a few beers.” Still, he bowls a maiden and builds some pressure this time around.

Ravi Nair just walked dog poo through the house. “But what if I promised to increase exponentially your sexual potential through search engine optimisation, but just used a rehash of a Robin Thicke title for my subject?”

Any vote for Robin Thicke is a vote against Marvin Gaye and I just won’t have that, Ravi. Robin Thicke has pulled off one of the most infuriating hijackings of a great song ever. A Kanye-level heist. Urgh.

Marvin Gaye

46th over: South Africa 78-4 (de Villiers 21, Abbott 2)

Pattinson is full of energy and bite as he charges in to de Villiers and only gets a go at Kyle Abbott in his last delivery, which is an amusingly predictable bouncer that has the lesser talented batsman ducking very sharply.

James Streeforth has a decent point. “Please stop with the deification of Smyth. He may be a fine writer, but there are some of us out here still haunted by the spectre of Daddy.”

45th over: South Africa 77-4 (de Villiers 20, Abbott 2)

The Nightwatchman Abbott has turned daywatchman now. He’s handling Harris well to start the day and plays out a maiden with confident defence. Well, he’s probably not confidant inside but he’s pretending he is.

I will let you in on a little secret. As I’m doing OBO’s sometimes I see the little number appear to tell me I have a new email and so excitedly scroll across to check it out (yes, I’m excited to hear from everyone, even the real shits). Sometimes though it’s a “Quarantine Summary” of emails they won’t let me look at. Most have subject lines that relate to improving my search engine ranking (and who doesn’t like being popular?) while some are promises of exponential growth in sexual performance. Can you believe I am being denied this information? I thought we lived in a society that valued freedom of information...

I really should just put Robert Wilson and Ravi Nair in contact. Robert says, “Tell Ravi Nair that I am second to no man in my love for Thorpey The Cat (as I knew him) nor any of the other players I provokingly slipped into the ‘ugly’ group. They were all typified as uncomely during their careers and I could not disagree more passionately. Gavaskar could square cut Joel Garner from a foot above his head FFS! It’s just that if your cover drive didn’t go to Oxbridge, people say you’re ugly.”

Personally, I was an ugly cricketer in literally every sense.


44th over: South Africa 77-4 (de Villiers 20, Abbott 2)

Four balls into the Pattinson over he finds the edge of de Villiers’ bat but it drops well short of Michael Clarke’s diving hand at second slip. at races away for a boundary In truth it was nothing close to a chance, though it was slightly OTT of the home broadcaster to add the cannon sound effect to the replay.

Ravi Nair has an addendum. “Oh and how could you describe Rob Smyth as a golden god? I’m pretty certain the official title is Strawberry Blond Deity.”

I had a dream about Rob Smyth a couple of days before I did my debut OBO. If this day goes the distance and Rob steps in, I’ll recount the dream as his intro. I don’t want to build it up but it was a bit weird.

43rd over: South Africa 73-4 (de Villiers 16, Abbott 2)

It’s the leg-weary but indefatigable Ryan Harris who partners Pattinson to start the day and laughter ensues when Abbott attempts to move forward to a length ball but gets his spikes caught in the turf, almost causing the batsman to topple forward in a moment of genuine physical comedy.

Ravi Nair thinks that Robert Wilson has misfired slightly. “While I have no problem with Robert Wilson’s cackling with glee at Graeme Smith innings, I must take exception with his categorisation of Graeme Thorpe (whose nurdle was a thing of outstanding beauty), and Sunil Gavaskar (perhaps!) as ugly players,” he says. “I cannot remember an ugly Gavaskar shot, though of course there were some unfortunate ones, and Thorpe was not an expansive offside wafter at the ball, hence perhaps the feeling he wasn’t one of the Titians or Raphaels of the batting world, but by heck he didn’t do ugly. Gritty, perhaps, at times, but not ugly. A thousand no no nos to that.”

Maybe he meant that Sunny had an ugly personality.

Oh no he didn’t!!!!*

*yes, yes he did.

42nd over: South Africa 73-4 (de Villiers 16, Abbott 2)

This is quite a field set by Michael Clarke to start us off. As James Pattinson takes the ball and steams in to Kyle Abbott, there are four men in short on the leg side, three slips and a gully. I think we know where Pattinson will be aiming it then...

In actual fact he gets off strike merely by making contact with a straight bat and the ball trickles down to mid-on for a meandering single. The nighwatchmen wanted two but his partner de Villiers had a different idea. A better idea, in actual fact. Pattinson goes past the edge of de Villiers but it’s a no ball. All in all it was a promising start by the returning Aussie paceman.

Brendan Jones asks, “Has there ever been a more schizophrenic Test series? Unless SAf pull out a miracle today, each Test will have been won by huge margins. And we can’t just say it came down to the toss, because in each Test the dominant team has looked like it has batted on a different pitch to its opponent. Compare and contrast SAf’s first innings here with Australia’s second, and the opposite in the previous test. Weird and yet wonderful. What does this all mean?”

It’s a little bit about the toss, right? I love schizophrenic cricket. It’s one of the best kinds.

A tribute to Graeme Smith

Robert Wilson writes in with his thoughts on Graeme Smith and his ink pot is full tonight.

“Let me get this off my chest,” he starts. “There was a lot of chiselling talk yesterday about Smith’s soi-disant ugliness. That’s kinda beside the point. It’s really all about watchability. Whether or not a player produces pleasure in the audience? There have been many ‘ugly’ players who have done so and many attractive ones who have not. Beauty in cricket shots is an imponderable. What random quirk of biomechanical grace makes Ponting’s pull shot so much nicer than Smith’s? And who decides?

“The uglies can be a wide and surprising group. Chanderpaul, Border, Graeme Thorpe and lustrously Spartan Stevie Waugh. A case could be made for Gavaskar, Greenidge and even the pornographically watchable Robin Smith to join them (did you ever see his cover drive? Yuk.). They were not aesthetes but they almost always produced all the audible proofs of our viewerly joy. The ooooh of surprised gratification, the ouch of reluctant admiration and, most crucially, the mad cackle of grim delight. Some of the pretty boys, on the other hand, the Gowers and Tendulkars and Mark Waughs, they didn’t quite get in amongst you in the same visceral way. Smith made me cackle. And cackling’s fun.”

I agree with the overall sentiment, Robert, but I’m watching Mark Waugh all day ahead of Graeme Smith. Well, not all day, he’d probably make an attractive 70 and then lob a catch but you know what I mean. But yes, batting beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Want to know who the richest cricketers in the world are?

Don’t lie, you know you do. None of us are above peeping at this stuff. Here is the list. There are no huge surprises in the Top 10 if you follow these kinds of things (actually, Brett Lee is probably doing better for himself than I realised), but some of the figures are genuinely staggering.

$28 million in endorsements for MS Dhoni and just the lazy $18 million for Sachin Tendulkar. Are these gentlemen overpaid, underpaid or properly paid?

Evening all

The hour is finally upon us. Australia have an entire day to take six wickets on a wearing pitch and South Africa must bat out something in the region of 90 overs to secure an unlikely draw as a gritty farewell to their leader and long-time batting bulwark Graeme Smith. Don’t completely discount them. Adelaide has left scars. We mustn’t become complacent.

Still out there is the Proteas’ batting ace, AB de Villiers, and he can later count on the support of Faf du Plessis, who’ll hope to rekindle his day five heroics from Adelaide two summers ago, when the Aussies were denied a win by one of the great rearguard innings in recent memory.

A win for the Aussies would cap a remarkable turnaround in form, from nervous strugglers to Ashes dominators and now, just maybe, a series win against the world’s number one team.

I don’t know about you but I am very excited about what is to come tonight, both on the field, and in the likelihood that our OBO golden god Rob Smyth will later join us if this gets past the first session. See that? I capitalized Rob’s name but not god. He’s like John Lennon if you reverse that particular analogy and make it so that someone like the bass player from The Sandpipers had said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

It’s 29 degrees Celsius in Cape Town, there is not a single cloud in the sky and we’re set for a cracking finish to this series.

Hit me on with all your Graeme Smith tributes, predictions for the day ahead and, let’s face it, insults.

Good evening/morning

What a series it has been. After the one-sided Ashes, this has been another example of how Test cricket can intrigue, surprise and inspire. Surely Australia will wrap this up. AB De Villiers may be the best batsman in the world but even he can’t bat all day and also expect to be kept company at the other end, can he?

Russell Jackson will be shortly to provide the answers....