JOHANNESBURG, April 3 (Reuters) - South Africa exorcised a long-standing hoodoo when they completed a comprehensive 3-1 home test series victory over Australia on Tuesday, winning the battle on and off the pitch to cement their place as the world’s number two side behind India.
The success was their first at home against the Australians since 1970, although South Africa have claimed test series wins on their last three tours Down Under.
The victory was secured with their biggest ever win by runs in tests, a 492-run humiliation of a scandal-hit Australia at the Wanderers.
In what could be a watershed series, they have also caused a change in the way Australia will play their cricket in the future following the ball-tampering furore for which this series will long be remembered.
“This means a lot to us,” South Africa captain Faf du Plessis told reporters. “And I believe this is the best we have been right through a series. Credit to everyone that played their part, at various times a lot of guys put their hands up.”
South Africa’s dominance was built on their batsmen scoring five centuries to none for Australia while their bowlers took all 80 wickets available.
“When you play against Australia you can’t ask for spicy wickets because their bowling attack is too good,” Du Plessis said.
“In the first three tests there was reverse swing with incredible skill and pace that we had to front up to. This last test match there was a lot of seam movement.”
South Africa also handled the pressure moments better than their visitors, though Du Plessis admits the controversy from one test to the next took its toll.
“This series has been different to others because of all the stuff that was going on behind the scenes. Mentally, it does chip away at you. I felt before this test that our team was mentally flat and that was because there was a lot happening off the field.
“It was new for a lot of guys, who could see just how draining test cricket is.” Du Plessis added that while the team was sad to see the international retirement of stalwart seamer Morne Morkel, he feels their bowling stocks look good going forward.
“There is good depth to our squad now. We are losing a big player in Morne, but I do think there are players who can step up and fill that role,” the captain said.
“You can see how much it means to him though, we have given him probably five or six send-offs this test match already. He is a really special guy on and off the field. He lives for the team. Young guys like ‘KG’ (Rabada) would have learnt a lot from his work ethic.”
Du Plessis would also not be drawn on the future of other senior players, such as Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and even himself.
“All of us are in the same boat, we are just taking it series by series. If the hunger is still there then I will try and push it as long as I can.”
Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond