SOUTH Africa have cantered to an eight-wicket victory over Australia on day three of a memorable Test match in Cape Town.
The Proteas needed 155 runs at the start of play, and had the 236-run target all wrapped up before lunch in just over 50 overs.
The mayhem from day two abated, and experienced statesmen Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla restored some sanity to proceedings by both scoring tons and combining for an emphatic 195-run second-wicket partnership.
Australia were left to rue poor fielding to go with their dismal batting performance.
Amla was inexplicably dropped twice on his way to a brutal 112 from 134 balls.
Captain Smith, the most consistent performer of the match, was outstanding and showed great temperament in a dicey situation both on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
He smashed 15 fours in his unbeaten 101 from 140 balls and despite the criticism he routinely cops from South African fans and media, it was yet another example of Smith leading from the front.
If Australia didn’t have enough problems, Mitchell Johnson’s erratic bowling returned 1-61 at nearly six runs an over.
He claimed Amla when the Proteas required just 14 more for victory, and until then he was staring down the barrel of failing to take a wicket in eight of his past 17 innings.
Michael Hussey dropped a sitter from Amla on the last ball before stumps on the previous day, before Shane Watson grassed another simple chance from the right-handed batsman in the third over on Friday morning.
From there, not even the superstition of being 1/111 on the 11/11/2011 or a short time later requiring 111 to win at exactly 11.11am local time could force the planets to align and get Australia back into the contest.
South Africa started the third but final day at 1-81 and in the box seat, but after the events of Thursday anything was possible.
The Proteas made it look easy and are now in the enviable position of being 1-0 up in a two-match series.
For Michael Clarke, it was his most embarrassing defeat since taking over as captain.
Despite being bowled out for a century-low total of 47 in their second innings, Clarke was still confident Australia could fight their way back into the game with disciplined bowling and good catching.
Unfortunately they managed neither, and Johnson wasn’t the only culprit.
Ryan Harris (0-67) was the unlucky bowler to twice have Amla dropped, Peter Siddle (1-49) failed to make inroads on Friday, while Nathan Lyon (0-11) had to wait until the 39th over to get his first bowl.
Australia made 284 in their first innings, carried by Clarke’s 151-run knock.
They appeared destined to fall behind, before a stunning five-wicket haul from Shane Watson sparked a South African collapse to be all out for 96 on day two.
But incredibly, Australia were sent packing for 47 in their second innings, presenting South Africa with more than three days to win the Test.
Day two at Newlands featured the fall of 23 wickets and was just the second time ever that parts of all four innings played out on the one day.
Clarke was disgusted with Australia’s bowling performance and said he wasn’t afraid to make changes for the second Test if it’s required.
The captain said he loves having Johnson in the team but admits he needs his strike bowler to improve his consistency.
“We need him taking wickets, there’s no doubt,” Clarke said.
Clarke intends to take stock over the next few days and speak to selectors.
He was shattered with the overall performance from his players in what he described as the lowest defeat he’s experienced as a player.
“I think I’ve got to get through today first. I’ve only just come off the field so I’ve got to be able to sit down and look at exactly what’s happened and communicate with the guys firstly,” said Clarke.
“That’s my priority and then I’m sure I’ll have a couple of messages on my phone from selectors.
“I’m going to need to talk to them but I don’t have the answer to the question right now.
“Today just showed us how poor our batting was in the second innings really.”
However the new skipper made a point of criticising his wayward bowling attack as well.
When asked who his best performed bowler was in the second innings, the several-second silence before his answer was deafening.
“Once again I don’t want to hide away from the fact of how bad we played in our second innings but I also don’t want to hide away from the fact that if we had made 600 in our second innings the way we came out and bowled today … we still would have been a chance of losing,” he said.
“We just weren’t good enough.”-AAP