Do South Africa want to dominate Test cricket in the manner of the great West Indies sides of the 1970s and 1980s and the Australians of the mid-1990s and early 2000s? Of course they do.
However, they’re not going to do it by talking about it, as was the case in the summer of 2008/09. Back in Melbourne after they’d secured South Africa’s first Test series win in Australia, the word being used was “dynasty”.
It was premature for a group of players who weren’t ready to assume the mantle of being the world’s best Test side. They returned to South Africa and were buried under an avalanche of hysteria about what the future held for them. As a result they lost a Test series they should have won.
Their growth in 2008, as Jacques Kallis described it before the Lord’s Test, had stagnated. They drew series at home against England, India and Australia, and appeared stuck in a rut. Well, they’ve assumed the No1 spot again, but this time there’s no talk about “dynasty”; instead, it’s about building for the future – properly. There’ll be no talk about dominating world cricket like the West Indies once did or Australia more recently.
“If it happens that we move down that way, that would be first prize, but it would be irresponsible of me to go into our next (team) meeting and say: ‘Guys, we are going to become the invincibles.’ It’s irresponsible and I would never do that to this team,” said coach,Gary Kirsten.
“What I will say is: ‘Our next series is Australia, this is what we need to do to beat Australia, let’s go for it.’ We’ll give that our best shot. And then we move on to the next thing, which is New Zealand and Pakistan at home, and we’ll prepare for that, so that’s how we progress, we build it, and if it ends up in a year’s time that we haven’t lost a game for a long time and we’re winning series, then that’s exciting, but we won’t go too far ahead.”
The average age of the South African starting XI for the Lord’s Test was 30 – which may sound old in sports such as football or rugby, but is about the peak for most cricketers.
The great Australia side that dominated the 2000s were well into their thirties. What South Africa don’t want to do is hang on to the older players like that Australia team did – the consequences of conservative selection policies are still being felt by the Australians.
Both Kirsten and Proteas captain Graeme Smith stressed the need for domestic competitions to keep producing players and then for structures such as the High Performance Centre and the SA A side to enhance player development so that they are ready for international cricket.