South Africa wrapped up its summer of Tests with another three-day finish and a convincing win over Pakistan, ensuring they earned a clean sweep of wins in all five Tests they played on home turf in the summer.
From the moment the team won the toss and chose to bat first, South Africa was in charge. Despite the openers failing, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers steadied the ship, scoring 92 and 121 respectively. Vernon Philander added 74 to help the hosts post 409 in their first innings.
The bowlers did the rest, and while the Pakistani opening pair managed to last the second longest of any opening pair playing the South Africans this summer, once the collapse was triggered, it was more of the same. Nobody scored more than 33, and the visitors were all out for 156 – the follow-on was enforced.
Dale Steyn struck off his first ball of the second innings and South Africa was back to its mesmerising best. Despite Imran Farhat and Sarfaz Ahmed showing some resistance, Pakistan crumbled to 235 all out in the second innings as South Africa sealed the win by an innings and 18 runs.
It was the cherry on top of a summer of complete dominance, and bar a tough time at Newlands, in conditions which favoured their bowlers, the Proteas raced to victory in emphatic fashion as they continued their record-breaking streak.
It’s not the first time South Africa managed to clinch a clean-sweep on home turf, but it is the first time it’s happened on skipper Graeme Smith’s watch. He was in charge of the team in 2003 when they wrapped up a clean sweep over Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but it’s the first time since taking charge that Smith has engineered such a convincing summer on home turf.
It’s also Smith’s 50th win as captain – the most for any Test skipper in the history of the game. And while his winning percentage is still far less than some of his Australian contemporaries, it’s a magnificent achievement. For a man thrown into the role at a young age, with many question marks hanging over his head, Smith has conducted himself impeccably. Ask him about his achievements over the past year, though, and chances are he’ll tell you they haven’t sunk in yet.
But Smith is just one sterling individual in a team of sterling individuals, and his record is just one in a long list from the team. On Sunday, they clinched their sixth Test win on the trot, while extending their unbeaten run to 15 matches.
There has been a lot of talk about team culture over the summer: and the side’s maturity, how much they have grown, the fact that the players all know their role and understand the importance of the processes in place.
And there’s a reason for this talk: there really is a certain aura surrounding the current team. Every player has stood out at least once, and when somebody falters, someone else stands up in their place.
To have a team that can dominate, even without Jacques Kallis and a veteran bowler like Morne Morkel, is a once-in-a-generation blessing.
“It is difficult to find new words to describe the way the Proteas have been playing,” commented CSA Acting CEO Jacques Faul.
“There probably aren’t any more superlatives left in the dictionary to acknowledge both their brilliance and their consistency.
“The very fact that they lost two senior players – Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis – before the start of this Test speaks volumes not only for the team to be undeterred by setbacks of any kind but also of the quality of replacements that is coming through our various development pipelines.
“It is remarkable that Kyle Abbott is the third Protea to take five or more wickets on debut in the space of little more than a year. It is almost reaching the stage where we expect the likes of Dale Steyn, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers to turn out these brilliant performances game after game,” Faul cooed.
The acting CEO, heading towards his last few days in charge of Cricket South Africa, also had nothing but praise for Smith.
“As for Graeme, he is now entering unchartered waters as the most successful captain of all time, and it is wonderful that we have had players such as himself, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, who have written new chapters in the history of the game.”
Those new chapters in the history of the game will now be put on hold for seven months. South Africa will not play another Test until they travel to the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan.
There is, of course, a host of ODI and T20 games coming up, but the shorter format of the game almost seems of complete disinterest – and it seems a tragedy to be deprived of watching the current crop of talent for so very long.
South Africa 409 all out
Hashim Amla 92 (128), AB de Villiers 121 (215); Rahat Ali 27.2-1.127-6, Ehsan Adil 12.1-2-54-2
Pakistan 156 all out
Younis Khan 33 (86), Imran Farhat 30 (60); Vernon Philander 10-2-30-2, Kyle Abbott 11.4-4-29-7
Pakistan 235 all out following on
Imran Farhat 43 (91), Sarfaz Ahmed 40 (45); Dale Steyn 23-5-80-4, Rory Kleinveldt 13-2-33-2
South Africa won by an innings and 18 runs DM
Photo: South African captain Graeme Smith (top) celebrates with Dean Elgar after Elgar took a catch to dismiss Pakistan’s Sarfraz Ahmed (unseen) during the third day of the third test cricket match in Pretoria, February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee
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Tigers cannot purr.