Melbourne: South Africa head into the third and final test against Australia believing that if all else fails their deep reservoir of grit and determination can still be counted on to confront the most daunting of challenges. Dominated by Australia for much of the epic, drawn Adelaide test will feel like more of a victory for Graeme Smith's injury-hit Proteas, whose batsmen turned a seemingly hopeless cause into a brilliant save on the final day.
The series remains locked at 0-0 after Brisbane and Adelaide, and South Africa's status as the top-ranked test side will be re-examined in Perth when the final match begins on Friday. The Proteas skipper, however, paid credit to the resilience of his players, who remain unbeaten on tour since February 2010. Cricket South Africa lauded the national squad on what it called "a magnificent rearguard action and, in particular, Faf du Plessis for his phenomenal performance on debut" to earn a draw in the second Test against Australia in Adelaide.
"It's really a strengthening point for us considering we haven't played very well," Smith said of the Adelaide draw. "We had another couple of big injuries in this test match that created a little bit of hassle for us and we still managed to scrape through after not being in great positions.
"We haven't been at our best but we still haven't been beaten, and that's a very rewarding feeling for us," he added. Having already lost all-rounder JP Duminy for the series with an Achilles injury, the Proteas withdrew frontline paceman Vernon Philander from Adelaide after he pulled up with a back injury. All-rounder Jacques Kallis strained a hamstring early on day one to compound South Africa's woes, but the 37-year-old battled on to score a half-century to help his team avoid the follow-on and then a gritty 38 in the fourth innings.
Duminy's injury opened the door for Faf du Plessis to produce a sensational debut, with 78 in the first innings and superb century in the second to guide South Africa to safety on day five and earn man-of-the-match honours. Philander's replacement Rory Kleinveldt also made the most of his opportunity, taking three wickets to be the pick of South Africa's bowlers in the second innings after a wicketless debut in Brisbane.
"Faf played with great skill, determination and pride, and the hallmark was the calmness he displayed, particularly in guiding the tail-enders through an extremely difficult last hour," commented CSA Acting CEO Jacques Faul.
Kleinveldt's performance, along with a dogged effort from paceman Morne Morkel, did gloss over a patchy test for South Africa's bowlers, who were blasted for 482 runs on day one. Queries over Dale Steyn's fitness remain after he had treatment for a leg strain. Legspinner Imran Tahir's international career may be over after he went wicketless for 260 runs, the most runs conceded without taking a wicket in test cricket.
Philander is expected to be fully fit for Perth, but Smith had his fingers crossed that Kallis could be retained, despite the team's doctor all but ruling him out. "To watch him be able to still perform with the bat was a crucial factor in the game," said Smith. "He played two very important knocks and his experience and skill definitely shone through.
"Ideally, we'd love to have him fit for Perth. He's definitely not going to bowl, but if we can have him just as a batter, that would be the ideal case." Australia's bowlers were dead on their legs after toiling for a day and a half in the Adelaide heat without the support of injured paceman James Pattinson. Australia captain Michael Clarke has already said Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle may not be fit enough for Perth and has called in a bullpen of back-up quicks as cover.
"Obviously, we've had an extra day of rest from a bowling perspective," Smith said. "Both teams will be pretty battered and bruised. We have five days left on this tour and an opportunity to create something special. That's what we were fighting for."