EVERYBODY who watched South Africa on Sunday who were disbelievers before now surely accept the gospel that the Proteas are the world’s No 1 Test side. Performances in England and Australia over the past 12 months proved it, while the rankings confirmed it.
At their “marquee venue”, Graeme Smith’s team operated with a resilience and conviction in conditions that were not always favourable to their desired mode of attack.
It did not always make for “pretty cricket”, but, then again, champagne Test cricket is not always pleasing on the eye. From the moment Smith won the toss and inserted Pakistan against popular opinion, there were several periods in an enthralling match that they were required to dig deeper than they have had to during the entire home summer.
Pakistan had bossed the game for the better part of two-and-a-half days. Younus Khan and Asad Shafiq’s twin centuries, along with Saeed Ajmal’s 10 wickets, had given the visitors hope. But each time the Proteas responded, as champions do, by finding a way, and their execution on the final day was relentless.
“This is one of the more rewarding victories we’ve had. We want to keep producing these types of results. We don’t sit in the change room believing the stuff of invincibility,” Smith said. “It’s nice to know we are a team that can perform in different conditions. We were speaking about recognising the moment and that’s what we did in this match.”
Finding a visible weak link in this rampant Proteas Test side is a tough task. There were those who suggested it was the left-arm spin of Robin Peterson, especially in correlation with South Africa’s vaunted pace attack. The Proteas, under Smith, have yet to conquer in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates, and it is here where their spin frailties could be exposed.
Newlands was no Eden Gardens, Galle or Dubai Cricket Stadium this past week, but, like Ajmal showed, there was sufficient assistance for the spinners on a slowish track. However, what Peterson established with his Man of the Match performance is that he is by no means the weakest link.
There are also few better-equipped individuals to describe how the Proteas have been transformed over the past decade, especially since Peterson played his first Test when Smith was leading South Africa for only the second time in Dhaka back in 2003.
“The guys are maturing and there is a good mix of older heads and younger players. Graeme has matured as a captain, (coach) Gary (Kirsten) has made a big difference and Jacques Kallis is there for experience. We’ve got exciting bowlers and good batting depth. It’s mentally draining to play a Test match like this, but good to come out of it like we did,” Peterson said.
Another major positive to emerge over recent months is the depth that the Proteas have. Despite injuries to key players such as Mark Boucher, Vernon Philander, JP Duminy and Kallis at various times during the record-breaking past 18 months, there has always been an able substitute ready to take advantage of his opportunity.
It should be no different this week leading up to the final Pakistan Test at Centurion. Fast bowler Morné Morkel is unlikely to get a run out at his home ground due to a hamstring strain. He left the field in the first innings, and came back to bowl only a further 19 balls in the second before having to get treatment from physiotherapist Brandon Jackson again.
Cobras opening bowler Rory Kleinveldt, who has already played three Tests this summer, will in all likelihood get another crack at Test cricket. “Each week is a different challenge, but it’s nice to have the confidence to know that we are a team that can perform,” Smith said.