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Whatever happened to South Africa?

NEW Zealand were supposed to be the apertif for the ongoing Australian summer cricket season; South Africa were expected to be the main course. The Proteas came to Australia with a great reputation but today they seem to be a highly overhyped outfit who are unable to perform when needed. Either that or the state of world cricket is more parlous than people actually realise.

Two Tests are over and Australia has clinched the series. What goes in Sydney soon after the New Year arrives will be a farce. There will be countless reports which say that South Africa now have pride to play for. There will be an equal number that say Australia has a series whitewash to play for. After all, people have to be pulled in somehow - the Australian Cricket Board has to make its books balance.

New Zealand came to Australia unheralded and everyone expected Australia to walk all over them. The Kiwis are apparently made of sterner stuff. They gave as good as they got and had the better of things in the first and third Tests. They may have allowed Australia to score runs but they did so themselves as well and Stephen Fleming showed good leadership.

Such has not been the case with the South Africans. To some extent, the selection policies which they have to follow may be wieghing on their minds though the players who were selected to fill the quota spots weren't that bad - not as far as we know. But in the end, they were no match for Australia. Their bowling, even with Donald, was pathetic. Pollock had few ideas when it came to leadership and in the sledging stakes the South Africans came a poor second.

Jacques Kallis made a few runs but this man claims to be the world's best all-rounder. The state of world cricket should give people cause for alarm if this is in any way true. His bowling was ordinary. His fielding was similar. And the overall fielding of the team was shameful. Jonty Rhodes would not have been proud to be among this bunch. Gibbs and Dipenaar are supposed to be outstanding in the field - supposed is the operative word here.

For those folk who live for Test cricket and think little of the one-day game, there has been little competitive cricket over the last four years, apart from the fight that the Kiwis showed this year. Else, Australia look invincible at home. The one-day game is hyped so much in Australia that any kind of contest is made out to be akin to a world war. It does not hide the fact that a great deal of mediocrity is parading as excellence these days; if Brett Lee is considered a class fast bowler, then one can guess the direction in which things are heading.

The only notable feature of the summer season so far has been the fact that two Australian players, Lee and Steve Waugh, were both fined for offences on the field. Lee merited a suspension, Waugh should have been fined much more. But then one cannot expect a Sri Lanka referee to lay down the law in all its majesty when he is in Australia. Not when the ICC chief and his second lieutenant are both Australians. Ranjan Madugalle would probably like to stay on as a referee and continue travelling the world.