BRISBANE — The concept of splitting a draw into "winning" and "losing" components has always been something rather born from the frustration of not having a winner than from common sense, but it is truly redundant in the modern, professional era. Not that it ever made sense.
When England hung on for successive draws, nine wickets down, in South Africa a few years ago they were cock-a-hoop and fist-pumping — heroes! South Africa had outplayed them in every department yet dragged themselves from the field feeling like they had lost.
Australia’s bowlers were humbled during the first innings, rendered helpless by the class and superiority of Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla at a ground and in conditions which have historically made them unbeatable since 1988 when a great West Indies team triumphed.
At 40/3 in reply the home side mounted a rousing fightback and it was the turn of the tourists’ bowlers to suffer. Michael Clarke was brilliant and Ed Cowan, perhaps fated to complete a thrilling passage from honest but limited journeyman to international regular, struck a cord for the good guys in sport.
The final afternoon saw two heavyweights circling the ring, the challenger swinging wildly in a desperate bid to find a knockout punch while the champion kept his gloves high and defended, careful not to make a fatal error. The judges scored it even. The champion retained his ranking — with two bouts to come.
Words of an increasingly spicy nature were spoken as the match progressed and, by midway through the final day, the contest was briefly reminiscent of the late 1970s and early ’80s, before the arrival of the "emotion police" and the advent of International Cricket Council match referees.
Peter Siddle gave Amla a fearful gobful of abuse. Amla, so often the back-turner, marched straight towards his abuser on the way to his batting partner. If an electric cable had been present at the moment their shoulders touched, a new form of alternative power may have been invented.
"It was quite funny, actually," said South Africa’s phlegmatic No3 afterwards. It didn’t look "fun" from the outside, but it was certainly compelling. The word, and "understanding", emanating from both camps at the end of the game was that the Adelaide and Perth Test matches may well be contested (back to the boxing analogy) not only without head protectors, but perhaps without gloves!
Australia have had a rough time of it in recent years but Clarke’s accession to the captaincy has resulted in five undefeated series since Ricky Ponting lost the Ashes. A series victory against South Africa would see them return to No1. They are clearly prepared to risk everything in an attempt to make that happen.
Does the champion respond with a flurry of punches himself, or wait for the pretender to wear himself out? Kallis has shown over the past three years that he can do both. In fact, he showed it in three hours on Tuesday. He sliced apart off-spinner Nathan Lyon with the precision of a sushi chef (2-0-26-0) before settling in for an hour of trench warfare with Siddle and James Pattinson.
Not only does he "still have it", there are some who suggest he may have more than he did at 30.
Kallis and Ponting have built great careers in parallel, matching each other from landmark to landmark — at least with the bat. The former Australian captain has not been burdened with the taking of 280 Test wickets as well. Now that the winter of their careers is upon them, it seems the South African is finishing stronger, by far. But as long as the Australian has air in his lungs, he will be feared.
A draw, then. So what? So everything! All the ingredients for the most fiery contest in recent times were put into the pot. The stirring of them at the Oval and the Waca can hardly come soon enough.