The future starts now for Australia, with captain Steve Smith urging his new-look side to ‘kick on’ after beating South Africa by seven wickets to emphatically end a five-Test losing streak.
Australia’s youngest Test XI since 1986 cruised to victory on day four of the day-night clash at Adelaide Oval. They rolled the Proteas for 250 in Sunday’s opening session then hauled in a target of 127 runs before the meal break.
The result, fittingly secured when debutants Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb were at the crease, meant Australia avoided the nation’s first whitewash in a home Test series since federation.
It is far too early to suggest Smith’s team have banished the batting woes that led to lopsided defeats in Hobart, Perth, Colombo, Galle and Pallekele.
But Australia fought hard throughout the pink-ball contest, especially man of the match Usman Khawaja in a first-innings knock of 145 that spanned almost eight hours.
— Steve Smith (@stevesmith49) November 25, 2016
“They showed a bit of fight, character and resilience,” Smith said, having last week admitted he didn’t know what Renshaw looked like.
“It’s been great to have these guys come in and create that energy and have that hunger and character about them, to want to win and fight.
“We can grow in what we’ve done in this Test match. It’s been a great start for a young group.
“We’re going to have to continue to work hard as a group to get to where we want to get … (there is) still plenty of work to do.”
Smith hoped selectors would show patience with the youngsters, noting “you don’t grow overnight”.
David Warner and Khawaja fell in the space of three balls during the 19th over of Australia’s second innings but there was no late twist in the absorbing dead rubber.
Renshaw, the 20-year-old who only recently moved out of home in Brisbane and had played 12 first-class games before donning the baggy green, finished 34 not out from 137 balls.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) November 27, 2016
Debutants Renshaw, Handscomb and Nic Maddinson were added to Australia’s XI after the hosts lost the three-Test series in an embarrassing innings-and-80-run defeat at Bellerive.
The selection panel, itself rejigged following chairman Rod Marsh’s sudden resignation, made five changes in total.
“We had three batters in the top six that had no scars or anything like that,” Smith said.
“I’m really proud of the way the team came back.”
Smith conceded the victory was a “little bit bittersweet, obviously it was a disappointing series”.
Proteas paceman Vernon Philander was named man of the series, having claimed 12 wickets and scored 136 runs.
Faf du Plessis, booed one final time at the post-match ceremony, suggested the defeat should not take the shine off South Africa’s third consecutive Test series win in Australia.
“We played exceptional cricket to win the series,” du Plessis said.
“Australia are a very competitive team and you don’t just come here and beat them.”
Nine Network commentator Shane Warne opined the turnaround “could be the making of” Smith’s captaincy.
Spearhead Mitchell Starc put the second new ball to good use on Sunday, trapping Philander lbw and clean bowling centurion Stephen Cook with a cracking inswinger.
Starc finished with figures of 4-80 in his most impressive performance of the series, while Nathan Lyon found form with a burst of three key wickets on day three.
Listen to Steve Smith talk to ABC Grandstand after the match: