After becoming the first team since the West Indies of the early 1990s to rack up back-to-back series wins in Australia, the South Africans now have a new challenge: stay at the top of the world cricket rankings for as long as possible. By ANT SIMS.
It’s been quite the year for the South African cricket team. Unbeaten in the Test format, ranked number one in the world in Test cricket and with wins away in England and Australia under their belts, it’s hard not to wax lyrical about what they have achieved, despite a few nervy moments thrown into the mix.
The Proteas have not lost an away series since 2006 in Sri Lanka and they have won 15 of their 31 away Tests since then, drawing nine and only losing seven. That’s a remarkable achievement for any side and while many are starting to utter phrases such as “the best South African team ever” coach Gary Kirsten is quick to downplay such suggestions.
“It is always difficult to compare (different eras). In terms of this team’s achievements there is no doubt that they are up there but I think that the players would be reluctant to compare with different eras,” Kirsten said.
South Africa were the first side to win back-to-back series in Australia since the all-conquering West Indies of the early 90s. The Aussies might not have had their front-line bowlers at hand for the final Test, but the Proteas still found some magic to take control and fight back. Despite injuries of their own, South Africa scrapped to a series win when they were down and out.
With a mix of youngsters and vast experience, South Africa took the Australians to task in the final Test at Perth and skipper Graeme Smith insists it takes a team effort to achieve what his side has.
“Having players that are able to perform around the world is a key factor to our understanding of how to be successful away from home,” Smith said.
“When you go to another country you have to figure out how do we win here, how do we deal with the pressures of performing in front of someone else’s media and crowds and handing everything that comes with that.”
There is no more Test cricket for the Proteas in 2012, but they have two series against New Zealand and Pakistan coming up early in 2013 and while they have been perennial underachievers on home soil, Smith knows the opportunity that presents itself is a huge one.
“We are enjoying the opportunity to be here. We have worked hard to be here and we knew that Australia would be the big stepping stone for us holding onto the number one ranking,” Smith said.
“We have given ourselves the opportunity for our home summer to create a bit of a gap between us and the other teams. It is an opportunity to build something really special. The motivation for us will be to beat New Zealand first up,” he added.
It would seem that Smith and his charges are engineering quite a historic period in South African cricket. Kirsten credits the humility of the side as contributing to their success and their historic wins. The coach also believes the players are “playing for the badge”.
“They go about their business in a very humble way and they’ve achieved success in different ways and in different conditions. They’re a very mature bunch of individuals … they play for the Proteas badge in a way I’ve never seen before,” Kirsten said.
“It’s been an incredible year and it requires time now for the players to reflect on it for a period – albeit a very short period because we’re playing again in a few weeks.
Since he took over as coach, Kirsten has said that his goal for the team is to become the best in all formats. Holding on to the number one position is as important as attaining it in the first place, and Kirsten praised the team for the way they absorbed and transferred pressure in tricky situations.
“It is important to us – we do want to leave a legacy behind. What this team has achieved over a pretty sustained period now has been nothing short of remarkable. Credit to the players for stepping up in high-pressure situations to not only save Test matches but also play the sort of dominant cricket we are capable of playing,” Kirsten said.
The future looks bright for the ever-blossoming Proteas and they have a real chance to stamp their authority even further in the summer. DM
Photo: South Africa players wait for the umpire’s decision giving Australia’s David Warner out at the WACA during the second day’s play of the third test cricket match in Perth December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
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