Adelaide: Skipper Steve Smith said his newly energised Australia side can only get better after a spirited win over South Africa in the day-night third and final Test in Adelaide on Sunday.
The Australians ended a five-Test losing streak with a commanding seven-wicket victory over the Proteas, after being well beaten in the previous two Tests and losing the series.
The second Hobart Test debacle, where they capitulated to an innings defeat in four days, triggered five team changes including three batting debutants: Matthew Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson.
Smith’s recharged team chased down the 127 runs required for victory on the fourth day of the pink-ball Test to give promise of better things to come.
The Australians have a three-match one-day series against New Zealand at home next month before a three-Test series against Pakistan starting December 15, in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
“We can grow on what we’ve done in this Test match. It’s been a great start for a young group that have come together,” Smith told reporters.
“You don’t grow overnight. I think it’s a good opportunity for this side to play a little bit together and continue to improve and know each others’ games, get better as a team.
“It was a great start but there’s still plenty of work to do.
“Pakistan have been playing some good cricket, some quality players and we will have to be at our best to get on top of them as well.”
It was an encouraging first Test for two of the young newcomers, with opener Renshaw showing plenty of application in his knocks of 19 and 34. Number four Handscomb hit a half-century, took a great catch and then scored the winning run at his second time at bat.
“I thought Matt played really well,” Smith said of Renshaw. “He knows his game very well, obviously got beaten a lot but he wasn’t chasing the ball and he was keeping his line.
“There were some quality bowlers that nip the ball quite a bit so you can’t afford to follow the ball.”
Smith said he felt the injection of new players energised the team after the Hobart nightmare. “I felt a sort of a switch straight away in energy and presence around the group,” he said.
Captain Faf du Plessis said he wants South Africa to play more pink-ball cricket despite losing during their first appearance under lights.
Du Plessis said the experience had banished any doubts among his players. “Before this series, the questions that we did have about the pink ball and playing day-night cricket often were more sceptical,” he told reporters.
“And now that we have been through it, not so much. I think there’s positive signs going forward. I would definitely like to see it in South Africa.
“And then it’s great to go around the world and play different conditions. If you can play one Test with pink balls (each series), I think it adds something different to Test cricket.”
Despite not being at the top of their game in Adelaide after outplaying the Aussies in Perth and Hobart, du Plessis was proud of his team’s performances in the series.
“Very happy. Our mission was successful. The last four days was not planned, but we came here to win the series, fortunately for us it was in Hobart (second Test),” he said.
South Africa (first innings) 259 for 9 declared
Australia (first innings) 383
South Africa second innings (overnight 194-6)
S. Cook b Starc 104
T. Bavuma c Smith b Lyon 21
V. Philander lbw b Starc 17
K. Rabada c Wade b Hazlewood 7
T. Shamsi not out 0
Extras (lb10, nb3) 13
Total (all out; 85.2 overs) 250
Fall of wickets: 1-1 (Elgar), 2-82 (Amla), 3-131 (Duminy), 4-154 (du Plessis), 5-190 (Bavuma), 6-194 (Abbott), 7-201 (de Kock), 8-235 (Philander), 9-250 (Rabada), 10-250 (Cook)
Bowling: Starc 23.2-5-80-4 (1nb), Hazlewood 20-8-41-2, Bird 20-3-54-1 (2nb), Lyon 21-4-60-3, Warner 1-0-5-0
Australia (second innings)
M. Renshaw not out 34
D. Warner run out (Bavuma/De Kock) 47
U. Khawaja lbw b Shamsi 0
S. Smith c de Kock b Abbott 40
P. Handscomb not out 1
Extras (lb4, nb1) 5
Total (3 wickets, 40.5 overs) 127
Fall of wickets: 1-64 (Warner), 2-64 (Khawaja), 3-125 (Smith)
Bowling: Abbott 10-2-26-1, Philander 7-2-20-0, Rabada 9-4-28-0 (1nb), Shamsi 14.5-4-49-1
Result: Australia won by 7 wickets
Series: South Africa 2-1
Man-of-the-Match: Usman Khawaja (AUS)