South Africa’s unbeaten run away from home is one that is unlikely to be beaten or matched any time soon. They have earned the right to be celebrated as one of the best of the modern era, but how do they compare to historically great teams? By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Assuming South Africa do not lose to Zimbabwe when the two sides begin their one-off Test on Saturday, the Proteas will finish 2014 with their shiny record of being unbeaten away from home since 2006 firmly intact. Assuming no further fixtures are pencilled in until next year July, that record will extend to an astonishing nine years.
Formidable cricket teams earn that reputation due to their ability to crush their opponents on their home turf. Away from home, conditions and terms for battle are dictated by the terms who live there. The opposition tends to be nullified because what they are confronted with is so completely unfamiliar to them.
Adapting to conditions away from home is what creates a historic and legendary team, and the South African team is very much on course to earn that status, if they have not done so already.
Their latest triumph in Sri Lanka was evidence again of having “big match temperament” – performing when their backs are well and truly up against the wall. Salvaging a draw against Sri Lanka in the second Test in Colombo was an incredible feat, and it is a theme that has been repeated numerous times over the last few years. Whenever the South Africans are in trouble, somebody digs in and saves them. But how does their record compare to other historically great teams?
Captains with the most successful record away from home
First, it’s worth looking at the captaincy records of the most successful captains away from home. Only captains who have stood in more than 10 Tests are taken into account for this equation. Considering South Africa’s dominance away from home, it might come as a surprise to some that former SA skipper Graeme Smith had the lowest win/loss percentage (not win percentage) of the six most successful away from home captains since the 1980s. Clive Lloyd has the best record, even in an era where the West Indies were still finding their feet. By the time Sir Vivian Richards took over, the Windies were truly on top of their game.
Steve Waugh is the most successful in terms of outright win percentages during Australia’s most dominant days, but Smith’s record is nothing to be scoffed at.
First, the fact that he stayed in the job for such an extended period of time is an achievement in itself.
Considering cricket captains generally have a lifespan of two to five years in the job, it is almost impossible to compare Smith directly to his peers. However, a glance at his record during South Africa’s dominant away from home period offers further insight into just how big their achievement is.
Once again, as the record reflects, it is difficult to compare anybody to Smith’s record because teams tend to change captains so often. Yet only two captains in this time period managed to get their wins away from home into double figures and just three have a win percentage of over 40. Smith’s win/loss percentage is also better than anyone else in this time period, but his win percentage still doesn’t match that of Waugh’s in Australia’s glory days. It remains an impressive, feat, though, and one which the team has had much bearing on.
The longest unbeaten streak away from home
The honour of longest unbeaten streak away from home goes to the West Indies team from 1980-1995. During the 15-year period, beginning in November 1980, the West Indies did not lose a single series away from home, drawing nine and winning nine. They beat England in 14 Tests out of 26, Australia in 10 out of 19 and also have Test wins in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India in the same time-period. The only place West Indies did not manage a series win in this time period was Sri Lanka, but they only travelled here once in this time.
From 1930 to 1949, Australia had a streak of drawing just one series out of seven, beating England, South Africa and New Zealand away from home. However, it is worth noting that international cricket was at a halt during this time due to the second World War, which did intervene with the time between games.
England also had an extended run of being unbeaten away from home from 1963 to 1971, beating New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and Australia away from home while drawing in India, Australia and New Zealand.
That there have been so few unbeaten streaks in the history of the game should serve as some insight into the magnitude of the Proteas’ current run.
South Africa’s unbeaten Test run
Of the post-1990 era teams, no other side has achieved what South Africa has done away from home. Yes, not even the great Australians who won 16 Tests on the trot have come close to matching their feat. Since 2006, South Africa have series wins in Pakistan, England (twice), Australia (twice), Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh and the West Indies. The one place they are yet to win a series is India: despite two visits there in the last six years, they have not yet conquered this frontier. Still, in the most recent years, there is nobody who has come even remotely close to matching them on this feat and, at present, there is nobody who is even remotely close to challenging them for their impressive run.
With all of the above taken into account, it is fair to say that South Africa is and should be celebrated as one of the best Test teams of the modern era. DM
Photo: Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke (left) and South Africa’s Graeme Smith pose with the ICC Test Championship mace at the Gabba in Brisbane, Australia, 08 November 2012. EPA/DAN PELED
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