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Centurion - It’s been a summer of fun made possible by extraordinary success. South Africa started the season in Brisbane and ended it here in Centurion, without knowing what defeat felt like and posted six victories, four by an innings and another by a whopping 309 runs.
There hasn’t been a summer like it for a South African side. Graeme Smith is hoping there are few more like it in the seasons to come. They were clinical and patient on Sunday. They managed just a single wicket in the first session, but Pakistan were never allowed to get away, just as Australia weren’t allowed to in Perth and New Zealand in their two Tests here.
The pressure Smith’s side exerted told in the second over after lunch when Azhar Ali was superbly run out thanks to a flat and fast throw by Dale Steyn coming off the fine leg boundary.
It was a moment that encapsulated this South African team perfectly. When the opportunity is presented to punish the opposition they are quick to pounce and they do so with extraordinary efficiency and terrific style. Pakistan slipped from 93/2 to 114/6 in 10 overs, any hopes they had of at the very least making South Africa bat again or taking the match into a fourth day dashed.
Steyn, who had some problems with his left foot at one stage, finished with four wickets, his pace and movement as clinical as at any point during a summer. He has emphatically underlined his status as the sport’s best bowler.
Young Kyle Abbott, may not have been as successful on Sunday as on Saturday – that was always going to be almost impossible to top – but as Smith mentioned afterwards, he kept building pressure on the batsmen through maintaining a consistent line. He finished with 2/39, and came desperately close to picking up a 10 wicket-haul. But but despite bowling non-stop for seven overs from the West Lane End after tea, he couldn’t get Mohammed Irfan or Rahat Ali to budge.
Rory Kleinveldt got reward for his endeavours by dismissing Misbah ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq, while the final wicket of the match went to Robin Peterson.
In reflecting on the summer, Smith, spoke of his team’s style and the pleasure he gained from leading them. “One, opening the batting is not easy in South Africa,” he quipped about the season just passed. “Two, the positive brand of cricket that we’ve played. We’ve been on the front foot, and to finish all the Test matches early and dominate in the way that we’ve played has been exciting. I don’t think it’s been a brash style of cricket. It’s been a focused, clinical style. We’ve got a lot of exciting and skilful cricketers.”
South Africa have seen off challenges from New Zealand, England and Australia in their own countries and had hoped to put on a show in front of their own supporters. “Coming back after a long time on the road and being successful … to come home and play in front of our home fans we could have taken it easy to allow our standards to dip. To be a part of the group and having won all the Tests at home in a positive style this year has been my highlight.”
It’s been a summer of Test cricket that’s seen Faf du Plessis block for his life in Adelaide, Smith and Hashim Amla lay waste to Australia’s bowlers in the final session of the second day in Perth, New Zealand being bowled out for 45, Pakistan being dismissed for 49 and the fifth day of Test become a foreign concept.
In all it’s been a summer of fun and one that won’t soon be forgotten.