England hero Ben Stokes was the difference for the home team as they kept their bid to win back the Ashes alive with a thrilling one-wicket victory at Headingley.
It has been noted that the South Africans were the first visiting team since the 1992/3 West Indians to win a second successive series touring Australia.
However, there are some parallels between the two series which may dispel some of the gloom after the recent Perth loss.
The glaring similarity, to me, is that in both series Australia was on the verge of taking the number one position in the Test rankings (albeit unofficial in 1992/3) by winning in Adelaide, only to stumble there and collapse completely in the final test at Perth to lose the series.
Many will remember the Adelaide test in 1992/3 – low scoring first innings, but a lead to the Windies, Tim May’s phenomenal five for next to nothing in the second innings giving Australia a chance by limiting the target to 186, Justin Langer’s gutsy 50 on debut with all around him collapsing (7-74 at the lowest point).
Then some faint hope as first a young Shane Warne and then May offered some support, but then falling himself at 9-144.
That left May and Craig McDermott batting needing 42, against Curtley Ambrose at his peak, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop. Pretty much the definition of no chance.
I for one switched off the TV at that point and went off to do something else. Tim May after all had been playing well supporting Langer but was no batsman. Craig McDermott had always had ability but by this stage of his career had been pummelled so much by the West Indies he could generally be relied on for a couple of big swipes and not much more.
Consequently when an hour or so later I drifted back past the TV, and flicked it on as much to see what might be on as anything, I was stunned to see they were still batting and inching to the target.
At 9-184 Courtney Walsh bowled a bouncer to Craig McDermott, who had been getting in line and copping it all innings, and did so again this time, except that his gloves were somewhere in front of his face, the ball flicked something on the way to the keeper, the Windies appealed and the finger went up – for the Windies win by one run.
Nowadays maybe there’d be a DRS challenge and maybe it would have shown the ball hitting the helmet or the hand being off the bat (as with Michael Kasprowicz in somewhat similar circumstances a few years later) – but who knows. It’s clearly in the scorebook that he was out caught.
For the record McDermott ended with 18, and May 42 – his highest Test score, just as that 5-9 in the second innings was his best Test bowling result. Somewhat poignant for him to have still then been on the losing side.
That brought the series back to 1-1 – Australia had won in Melbourne on the back of Shane Warne taking a seven for, after having got very close before running out of time in Brisbane (the Windies were eight down and a long way off at stumps – not so different to the South Africans recently).
They then went to Sydney and (after a strong first innings) were flattened by Brian Lara’s 277 but were easily able to hold on for the draw.
Coming into Perth therefore all was square, even though Australia could have been two or even three up had only very little fallen their way.
Would Australia end up getting the reward for on balance having been on top to that point in the series, just as in the recently completed series? Afraid not.
We know what happened against South Africa in the last Test this year. Back then Curtley Ambrose also had some different ideas. Australia batted first and got to a respectable enough 2-85. Ambrose then delivered his famous 7-1 spell and Australia found itself 9-104 and staring at losing the game and series within the first half of the first day.
Miracles do happen, but not for Australia in Perth in 1993 or in 2012. Two series lost which so nearly looked like being won. The number one ranking tantalisingly close but snatched away – in 1993 it was probably as close as one absolute champion, Alan Border, ever got to it. In 2012 it was another’s (Ricky Ponting) last chance to regain it.
After 1993 the next tilt at the crown for the Australians was in 1995 in the West Indies – and on the back of the Waugh brothers kicking on from that 1992/3 series, David Boon and to a lesser extent Ian Healy providing some ongoing backbone, Mark Taylor and Michael Slater coming in, Shane Warne maturing into a great player and one Glenn McGrath adding a new element to an otherwise pretty prosaic seam attack.
The likes of McDermott, Merv Hughes and Bruce Reid had retired in 1992/3, so it was largely a new team that started Australia’s run towards becoming the best in the world.
Is there basis for optimism that something similar might happen this time? There are too many variables to try to predict whether winning the next two Ashes series could lift Australia to number one. Even if it did, it’s difficult to dispute that that would be a hollow result unless Australia also managed to beat South Africa.
To me though, the prospects for Australia to kick on in the next couple of years look bright, and there’s a potential parallel to the 1992/3 to 1995 transformation there.
You can see David Warner becoming a more consistently good player and filling the dominating opener role that was Michael Slater’s. Michael Clarke can’t be too much less of a batsman than Steve Waugh ever was.
Michael Hussey fills the old pro role that was David Boon’s – differently, and not as well in some respects – but arguably better in others.
Matthew Wade has it all in front of him to match Ian Healy but has the ability. The comparison falls down a bit with Nathan Lyon who, with all respect, will never be Shane Warne. On the other hand, if they could ever get onto the park, it’s fair to say the sky’s the limit with the Australian pace attack at the moment.
There really is material there to create a world beating side.
And all that leaves us to do is find Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh equivalents, and a sixth batsman or all-rounder! For now, persist with Cowan as a poor man’s Taylor, recall Khawaja and hope talent turns into production with Watson.
And anyone getting consistent runs in the next season and a half, or any wrist spinner taking wickets, form a line to the left, we’ll be right with you.