Graeme Smith – 6/10
Graeme Smith takes a lot of flak from South African supporters. The “joke” amongst them is that he only scores runs every 15 innings. On quick reflection, it might seem true – truer if you’re from the “Smith is useless and shouldn’t captain the team” school of thought. Oddly enough, he’s only once gone 15 innings without scoring more than fifty. Biff, as he is affectionately known, is a tremendously successful captain, and after being thrown into the deep end at the age of 22, he has grown and evolved and generally become more likeable.
His technique might not leave you in awe, but perhaps that’s one of the things that makes Smith so fascinating: despite being completely unorthodox, he still manages to score runs at the top of the order. A bad knock in Cape Town was followed up by a nifty fifty in Port Elizabeth, and his captaincy has been good too.
He’s used his bowlers well and while when to declare has hardly played a part, he backed his bowlers in the first Test and was a nice enough to allow Dean Elgar to get a ton in Port Elizabeth. Sweet.
Alviro Petersen – 6/10
Amidst all the records broken at Newlands, Alviro Petersen scored a ton. It was a fine effort from the opener who seems to do quite a lot of things slightly under the radar. He couldn’t quite follow up his Cape Town efforts in PE, and his fielding in the slips wasn’t exactly up to his usual standards. He dropped a couple of catches, much to the frustration of Dale Steyn, and while he admitted that the last hour on day two in Cape Town was “just terrible cricket” all round from the Proteas, the opener played a rather needless shot to get out in the first innings in the second Test.
Dean Elgar 6/10
A scratchy innings against some village bowling, a dropped catch in the gully and generally still looking out of sorts in the Test set-up encompassed Elgar’s performance in the first Test. He followed it up with a solid hundred in Port Elizabeth on a pitch which was far trickier than the one in Cape Town. Elgar will be tested again in the upcoming series against Pakistan, but he can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that he’s not as useless as his debut performances made him appear.
Jacques Kallis 6.5/10
Jacques Kallis passed 13,000 Test runs in Cape Town. Thirteen thousand! As if that’s not enough, he also took two wickets in the second innings. While he did flop with the bat in Port Elizabeth (scoring just eight), he managed to get rid of Dean Brownlie and break the one New Zealand partnership which was actually looking threatening.
Kallis is, without argument, one of the best cricketers to ever walk the planet, yet he’s somewhat under-celebrated for some reason. And while his score does underline that under-celebration, it shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of his overall class. As a whole, Kallis’ contribution to the side is irreplaceable. With the ball, with the bat, in the slips. He is a colossal legend.
AB de Villiers 7/10
Since doing a 180 about this whole keeping wicket in Test thing, AB de Villiers has taken quite a bit of stick (including on these pages). But it seems as though South Africa’s blue-eyed boy has finally shaken off the shackles and he’s slotting into his dual role without his performances being too shoddy. He’s far from your typical keeper, which is perhaps why some might struggle to adjust to him behind the stumps, but rules and stereotypes are there to be smashed to pieces. De Villiers’ keeping is getting better with every match, and his batting seems to be getting back to that level of pizzazz which makes him one of the most enjoyable players to watch.
Faf du Plessis 7/10
Everybody thought that Faf du Plessis simply wasn’t the Test match type. Some thought he didn’t have the temperament, the skill or the talent. He’s played just four Tests, but he averages 111.25 in those matches. Not bad for a guy who supposedly isn’t Test quality. Despite that reputation, Du Plessis is quickly becoming a massive asset to the Proteas. He’s a brilliant fielder and seems to score hundreds at will with just the right mix of class and flair – epitomising the modern cricketer.
Robin Peterson 7/10
There is nothing spectacular about Robin Peterson. He doesn’t have the bamboozling deliveries so many spinners boast with, but his strength lies in his ability to always get batsmen out with a stock ball: the slightly slower one which doesn’t get up. Since his return in Perth, Peterson has come into his role in the Test set-up with ease. In Cape Town he got rid of Brendon McCullum with exactly that kind of ball. In Port Elizabeth he picked up four wickets in similar fashion. Those who are fans of The Art Of War will know that feigning inferiority to encourage arrogance in the opposition is a key strategy – even in civilised wars, such as cricket matches. Peterson has that bit down.
Morne Morkel 7/10
Morne Morkel often bowls very well with little luck, and it was very much the same in the two Tests against New Zealand. While he battled with inconsistency in Australia, he seems to have fixed that nagging problem. He conceded just two extras in the first Test and just one in the second. He partnered Dale Steyn well and picked up a few wickets for good measure – perhaps not as many as he deserved, but he never dropped his head despite some understandable frustration.
Rory Kleinveldt 7/10
Rory Kleinveldt has grown enormously since making his debut in Australia. And no, we don’t mean around the waistline. He dished up some superb deliveries, unplayable deliveries on a pitch which had plenty to offer the bowlers. Bouncing back from a poor performance on debut takes some doing, and things can only get better from here for Kleinveldt.
Vernon Philander 9/10
He might have played just one Test, but Vernon Philander was so utterly destructive in the first innings at Newlands that giving him anything below nine would be an utter travesty. It was one of the finest spells of bowling many ever had the pleasure to witness, and the Ravensmead Wrecker proved once again just how threatening basic line and length bowling can be. His 6-3-7-5 could very well end up being the best figures for a bowler this year. It was poetry in motion.
Hashim Amla 9/10
Hashim Amla’s talents seemingly know no bounds. His wrists are so spectacularly impressive that some have suggested when he eventually dies they should be preserved in formaldehyde. He looked in good touch in the first Test until walking across his stumps cost him, but in Port Elizabeth, the Mighty Hash was completely flawless and sheer batting perfection.
For a man who, at the start of his career, was thought to not be good enough for this international Test cricket lark, Amla has proved critics so very wrong, time and time again. He’s started 2013 where he stopped in 2012: a bowler’s worst nightmare.
Dale Steyn 11/10
Dale Steyn bagged his 300th Test wicket in Cape Town. He became the tied third-fastest to achieve that feat. Steyn is good. Scratch that: he’s the best. When he was asked whether he realised just how good he actually was, he laughed and insisted that he’s got much more left in those legs of his.
His bowling has been perfect throughout the series, and barring the few blips here and there which would only be spotted by a hyper-critical person like Steyn himself, he’s been sensational and finished the series off where his incredible career first began nine years ago. He had a rough start in his first Test, but whatever demons lingered around PE for him have surely now been exorcised. DM
Photo: South Africa’s players celebrate the wicket of New Zealand’s Doug Bracewell (not pictured) on day four of their second cricket test match in Port Elizabeth, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
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