South Africa finally wins the psychological war

From being steamrolled by Australia in Johannesburg in 1997 to decimating it at the same venue in 2018, the wheel of fortunes has turned a full circle for South Africa.

The men from down under were no longer strong in mind and South Africa, weak.   -  AFP

Steve Waugh, as ruthless as they come, spoke about mental disintegration of the opposition after a famous conquest in the Johannesburg Test of 1997.

Waugh, even in his early days of captaincy, waged psychological warfare on the arena. After bowling out South Africa for 302, the Aussies, with Steve grinding out 160 and Greg Blewett, 214, batted on and on before declaring at 628 for eight.\

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South Africa was blown away for 130 in its second innings. Then, Waugh spoke about targeting the opposition mentally, tiring out the adversary to the point of desperation, and then moving in for the kill.

That was a star-studded South African side as well, including the likes of Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis, Darryl Cullinan, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald.

Australia went on to win the series. For the host, the psychological scars remained. From then on, South Africa was never able to overcome Australia in a series at home, until Faf du Plessis and his men outplayed the Aussies in the dramatic recent series.

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This time, Australia was left with deep mental wounds. The men from down under were no longer strong in mind and South Africa, weak.

It can be argued that when South Africa annihilated Australia in the fourth Test at the Wanderers by an astonishing 492 runs, the visitor had already been devastated by the ball-tampering scandal. And it was without its two primary batsmen, Steve Smith and David Warner.

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Yet, it can also be said after the reverse in the first Test in Durban, South Africa came back strongly to win the second at Port Elizabeth and pushed Smith’s Australia so hard in the third at Cape Town, that the Aussie skipper, along with his deputy Warner, was forced to walk down a treacherous path of illegality.

The Aussies were already breaking up mentally. And when du Plessis, a strong captain who gets his men to rally behind, said, “we pushed the Aussies mentally,” at the conclusion of the series, Waugh's words 21 years back came ringing back. This time the Aussies were at the receiving end.

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du Plessis had stretched the target to an impossible 612 at the Wanderers and he was getting the weary Aussies to disintegrate mentally and psychologically. The Aussies were shot out for only 119.

From Jo’burg 1997 to Jo’burg 2018, the wheel had turned a full circle.