After over 12 months of colouring their honours board with all sorts of achievements, Graeme Smith and his charges can finally take a few steps back to take it all in. They have beaten Sri Lanka and thrashed New Zealand and Pakistan at home; and overcome New Zealand, England and Australia away from home.
Smith has said time and time again that the team he now leads is the best he has ever played with, and drove the point home again after the Proteas wrapped up another comprehensive Test series win on the weekend.
“This is the best team I have played in as a South African cricketer. We have all our bases covered. Part of that is the maturity and professionalism with which they approach every match and the pride they put into their performances,” Smith said.
The skipper clinched his 50th Test win on the weekend, the most for any skipper, and he insists that he’s not quite done yet, despite a pleasing summer of ruthless performances.
“There is still more I want to achieve with this side. We want to create a team that plays the game hard but in the right spirit. What has been most pleasing about this summer is how clinical we have been; we have never let our intensity drop. That is how we set out to play our cricket,” the skipper said.
The team faces a long layoff from the Test format before they head to the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan later in the year, and Smith knows how crucial preparing for that series will be after so much time out.
“Preparation for Abu Dhabi will be the key,” Smith said. “You cannot keep guys at the top of their game for eight months when they are not playing Test cricket, so it will be about how we approach the build-up to the series.”
After the Champions Trophy in England later this year, Smith will link up with English county Surrey, where he will captain the side for the English summer. It’s a move some of the other Test players might consider in order to keep on top of their game, but Smith insists that it’s a personal choice and his decision was based on where he’s at with his career and his family.
Another player who will be itching to get back into action is South Africa’s latest star recruit, Kyle Abbott. He made his mark on Test cricket by picking up seven wickets in South Africa’s first innings, and the rookie says he’s itching for more.
“I’ve had a taste, and it tastes really good. It’s going to be a little frustrating not playing for a while. I feel like I’d love to have another series to showcase my skills again,” he admitted.
Abbott might have to wait even longer than seven months before he gets to return to the Test team. He was brought in as cover for an injured Morne Morkel, and will most likely have to watch from the sidelines in the next Test if Morkel is fit – unless South Africa opts for an extra bowler in UAE.
Abbott has paid his dues on the domestic circuit for the last few years, and explains that the competition amongst those players waiting on the fringes is fierce. The 25-year-old also reckons the domestic set-up is stronger than it’s ever been.
“The domestic circuit is at its strongest,” Abbott said. “There are a number of bowlers knocking on the door. It’s a real credit to the system that we’ve got, the High Performance Programme and the even the South Africa A, which is run really well now. There are good coaches and good structures to prepare guys for the next level, so the guys stepping up are ready. I’d say the core of South African cricket is really strong.”
Abbott feels part of the reason the recent recruits have had such great success is that those coming into the spotlight are under pressure. With South Africa on a 14-match unbeaten streak, the rookie felt that he could hit the deck running and just “express” himself.
“If there were ever an ideal situation to make your debut in, this was it,” he said. “I could be sitting here with South Africa on the back of ten losses, with them scraping the barrel for new players,” Abbott added.
Abbott also believes that the culture in the national team is similar to that of the franchises, albeit with the ante upped.
“The professionalism and intensity just steps up. That happens automatically. You look down at your shirt and you see the South African flag on your heart and everything just steps up a gear and you don’t even realise it,” he said. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Graeme Smith plays a shot during the second day of their first cricket test match against Pakistan in Johannesburg, February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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