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After Australia victory, South Africa need to prove they can win without Kagiso Rabada

Kagiso Rabada sent Australia tumbling to defeat with stunning match figures of 11 for 150 in the Port Elizabeth Test match. (REUTERS)
LONDON: South Africa won the Port Elizabeth Test but lost their pace spearhead. Kagiso Rabada sent Australia tumbling to defeat with stunning match figures of 11 for 150, but then discovered that he would miss the next two Tests after one on-field transgression too many. With the series now beautifully poised at 1-1 with two to play, we look back at what we learned from St. George’s Park.

You did not need to be a mind reader to understand Faf du Plessis’ conflicted emotions after the six-wicket victory. Rabada was the player his team could least afford to lose, and his impassioned defense, comparing the Rabada-Steve Smith shoulder-brushing incident with David Warner’s stairwell rage in Durban, struck a chord. “For me, if you look at those incidents, one is brushing of the shirt, the other is a lot more aggressive. My question was: Why are both these incidents labelled the same (level 2, with three demerit points)? For me, they are not.”
In the history of Test cricket, only George Lohmann, who played the last of his 18 Tests in 1896, has a better strike-rate than Rabada among those with more than 100 wickets. Those he has left behind include Dale Steyn, widely regarded as South Africa’s greatest bowler, and Malcolm Marshall, who most of his peers consider the best there ever was. You can understand du Plessis’ funk.

By his exceptional standards, Smith has had a quiet series, with just one half-century and 130 runs in two Tests. Three of the dismissals came against orthodox left-arm spin, with Keshav Maharaj dismissing him once in each Test. Among the bowlers to have dismissed Smith more than once in Tests, are three lefties. He averages 22.33 against Maharaj, 39 against India’s Ravindra Jadeja and 43.4 against Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath. Those are hardly dire numbers, but when put up against a career average of 62.49, they do suggest a small chink in formidable armor.

Cameron Bancroft has scores of five, 53, 38 and 24 in the two Tests. Seven matches into his career, he averages a modest 27.18, and you can glimpse a worrying pattern. Eight times in 12 innings, he has faced at least 40 balls and batted for more than an hour. The quality opening batsmen, once they have seen off the new-ball threat, cash in. With just two half-centuries to his name, Bancroft has not been able to do that. Some, like the luckless Matt Renshaw, have been dropped for less.

Having announced his decision to retire at the end of this series, Morne Morkel started it needing six wickets to get to 300. He struggled for rhythm and figures of three for 121 in Durban, prompting the selectors to bring in the exciting Lungi Ngidi for the second Test. Ngidi was a superb foil for Rabada, taking five for 75 and breaking partnerships at vital moments. Had Rabada not succumbed to white-line fever, Morkel may have stayed on the sidelines. Now, it seems certain that both he and Ngidi will play in Cape Town.

In testing conditions where only four other batsmen went past 50, AB de Villiers smashed 154 runs off 172 balls. His unbeaten 126 in the first innings — most of those runs made in the company of the tail, and against vicious reverse swing — was the difference between parity and a match-transforming lead. Like Virat Kohli, he now has six centuries against Australia, a South African record and a gentle reminder of the folly of excluding him from any conversation about the world’s best batsman. At 34, he is significantly older than Smith, Kohli, Root and Williamson, but he is every bit as good.