Centurion – The shadow cast by one of the floodlights on the western side of the ground had stretched across the pitch by the time South Africa took the final wicket of the final Sunfoil Test of the summer.
After the barrage of pace from the No 1 bowler in the world and a debutant had not proved effective in prying out the final tailenders, Graeme Smith turned to spin, and within a few balls, and a desperate, why-the-hell-not review, the summer was over.
It will be six months until this magnificent Test side will be seen in action again, and it will seem like an interminable age as the scheduling means they will only next play a Test in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in October.
That is “disappointing”, said Graeme Smith on Sunday, but there was no sense that they see the break as a handicap. It’s merely another challenge. Smith’s team have come to relish challenges, and he is off on a new one himself after the one-day matches against Pakistan, when he takes up a contract to play county cricket for Surrey.
It has been an astounding summer. Smith won 100 caps as a Test captain at the Wanderers, and then a week later another milestone as Test captain of South Africa. He has become the first man to captain a team to 50 Test victories.
“It’s been a very special summer at home, with some incredible milestones for me and the team,” said Smith, who was sporting a plaster on his arm after having to undergo a blood test after the match.
“I’m grateful I’ve been able to achieve something today, and I want to be able to achieve more. To be the first person in the world and be a South African to set those milestones is even more special.”
There has been talk of a legacy that Smith, Gary Kirsten and the current South African team are in the process of establishing.
The suggestion that this might be a dynasty along the lines of the great Australian and the West Indies sides may still be one made too early, but the signs are most definitely there.
When a titan such as Jacques Kallis is injured and can be replaced by a confident young man such as Kyle Abbott, who takes nine wickets on debut, then you are on the right path.
The ability to adapt to the loss of a vital part of your team, to integrate and absorb seamlessly, and then still win, those are the marks of great sides.
“It was important to win,” said Smith of the weekend’s dead rubber. “Dynasty? They don’t teach us those big words in KES,” he laughed.
“We wanted to step it up this game. To win so convincingly when we were uncertain what to do on day one was amazing. We took the challenge on and batted. It’s easy to be soft in situations like that, but to see our batters front up like that was incredible.”
Then came the turn of Abbott to talk, a player who Smith admitted he had “limited knowledge” of before he came into the side. He seems to the manor born, said Smith, who had been impressed by his “pace and the way he hit the bat hard”.
Abbott was named Man of the Match for his nine wickets for 68 runs.
His parents had driven up from KwaZulu-Natal on Friday morning, leaving at 2am and arriving at SuperSport Park in time to see Smith give their son his first cap.
They left on Sunday afternoon for home, before South Africa tidied up the tail. Abbott and Steyn had been fighting for the last wicket; Steyn to claim his five for the innings and Abbott his 10 for the match. Neither got it.
“It was painful,” he smiled. “If I’d been given 9/70 before this game, I would have taken it. It’s going to be frustrating not to have another series and showcase what I can do.”
For those South Africans who have been privileged to watch the No 1 team in the world in action this summer, the wait will indeed be frustrating. It has, though, been a quite magnificent summer of Test cricket. – The Star