The Roar
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Come back soon, Steve – we already miss you

South Africa's Vernon Philander. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Expert
3rd April, 2018
11

If the Australians talked about showing grit on the final day in Johannesburg, they were probably still thinking sandpaper.

Capitulating for 119 on the last day of the fourth Test when there was every reason to prove the battered Aussies had resolve – talk about bringing the game into disrepute.

They could only draw the final match of the series to go home defeated 2-1 to a top-quality South African side. But they had a chance to show there’s plenty of character in the dressing room following the humiliation of the ball-tampering saga, and to farewell coach Darren Lehmann with a proud display.

Instead, it was a woeful 81-minute surrender. The 492-run loss – a cringeworthy and record margin – was deflating for Australians wanting to witness a bit of fight.

Vernon Philander was nipping it around but that he made it seem like a totally different wicket a day after he and his teammates had cruised to a declaration of 6-344 was a dismal reflection on Australia.

It was Australia’s second-heaviest defeat – in terms of runs – in Test history.

If Tim Paine’s team was hoping to evoke some goodwill following sandpaper-gate, they only further rubbed Aussie cricket fans up the wrong way.

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A year ago in India, Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh batted for 232 minutes and 374 balls to deny the home side victory in the third Test in Ranchi.

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A Test save can often elicit confidence and belief, but the Johannesburg collapse showed how far Australia have fallen since their Ashes demolition only a few months ago.

It also highlighted that the biggest save over the next few weeks and months will be getting suspensions reduced for Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.

Most significantly Smith, who needs to be on the plane for next year’s Ashes. As it stands, a 12-month ban would make it tricky or even impossible for him to convince selectors he’s worth taking to England.

It would mean he wouldn’t be available for any Sheffield Shield matches, so a reduction by at least three months – which seems entirely likely and justified – would mean Smith would be available for the second half of the Shield season.

Five games of four-day cricket would be enough for Smith to rack up the runs he needs for an Ashes recall, even if his international ban carries through over the entire summer.

There’s little to be optimistic about in Australian cricket at the moment, but Smith’s appeal is one ray of hope on the horizon as the IPL circus starts up.

Given the sympathy the fallen Australian captain has garnered since his teary Sydney airport confession, his appeal is one that will be screamed loud and clear in unison around the country.