South Africa’s coach Gary Kirsten believes the roller-coaster ride which was the final day of the Test series at Lord’s on Monday will stand the players in good stead not just for future Test matches and series, but in other formats of the game too.
The historic series victory, the second in England under Graeme Smith’s captaincy, came amidst extreme tension as England produced a bold fightback to force the match into the final hour in defence of their No 1 crown.
“We talk about the 10 per cent tweak that we always want and there’s definitely something there that’s happening,” a satisfied Kirsten said yesterday.
“You take Monday. We got put under massive pressure at the end. We could have lost the game but the guys pulled through. Now there is incredible learning out of that.
“To be put in that situation and to overcome it and win it, especially for this South African team, where we’ve had some scarring in the shortened formats of the game in the past, to come through that, will be big for those players.”
While the South Africans have been lauded for their excellence throughout the series, Kirsten said they were wary about looking too far ahead after they’d overwhelmed England in the first Test by an innings and 12 runs. They lost just two wickets in that match with Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis all making centuries.
“That outcome could have potentially been very dangerous for us, because the victory ultimately came to us pretty easily,” Kirsten reflected. “The danger would have been for us to think that we could win the next two Tests as convincingly as that. This South African team can win games in that way (as they did at The Oval) because when we put it together with bat and ball, that’s the kind of performance we can produce. It was a very special performance. To lose only two wickets in two and a half days of batting doesn’t come around often.
“We were fully aware that the next two Tests were going to be much harder and we were going to lose wickets and we were not necessarily going to bowl sides out. The second and third Tests were more realistic reflections of the battle between the teams. The guys deserve credit because we didn’t get lost in that performance at The Oval. We came back to reality and understood we were going to be put under pressure and we would have to respond to that. What excites me with this team is we understood that; we were put under pressure and we did respond.”
Kirsten was a part of squads that suffered mental wounds at World Cups, but he has gone a long way towards his healing by coaching India to the World Cup last year. The current South Africa side will have to wait for the healing to occur in the limited overs arena, but for now the No 1 Test ranking and a series win in England will do nicely.
“We’ve reached something that is very special and the players deserve a lot of credit for their efforts and what they’ve put into that, but I think for us it’s not the end of the road,” Kirsten explained.
The turnaround between the Test matches and the ODIs is very quick. South Africa have a warm-up game in Bristol against Gloucestershire, for which they will have little preparation, but where they will be reliant, as Kirsten explained, on the energy of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Robin Peterson and Albie Morkel, who have all been with the Test party for weeks but seen no action.
Kirsten’s attention has already gone beyond the one-day series with England and even further than next month’s World T20, on to Australia where South Africa will defend their No 1 ranking in a three-Test series Down Under in November.
“I’m really excited by that tour. It’s another big series with Australia and we want to stay at number one now. An important part of the process is to ask ourselves, ‘What do we need to do to keep theconsistency up and to maintain that standard?’”