Cape Town — “This team is on their own mission.”
That was the unequivocal message Proteas coach Mark Boucher had to the nation after his team clinched a momentous series victory over the World’s No 1 ranked Test side India at Newlands on Friday.
Many had written off the Proteas prior to the start of this epic three-match series, and even more so after Virat Kohli’s side trounced the hosts in the first Test at “Fortress SuperSport Park”.
And the critics only grew louder after star wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock retired from Test cricket midway through the series.
But in the true South African spirit that Boucher embodied throughout his own playing career, the Proteas showed immense grit, courage and tenacity to haul themselves off the canvas to preserve their record of never having lost to India in a Test series on home soil.
Considering what the Proteas — and cricket as a whole in South Africa — has endured during a tumultuous two-year — both on and off the field, this series victory could instil the belief in even the most ardent naysayers that this group of players, who may be short in superstar quality, have finally turned the corner and are headed on in an upward trajectory.
“I believe we turned the corner quite a while ago. Our results have been pretty solid over the last six months to a year,” Boucher said after the seven-wicket victory.
“I think we are in a good space at the moment. Our feet are firmly on the ground. We know that we are not the finished article. We will enjoy this win. It is something that we can take a lot of confidence from.
“This team is on its own mission. If people want to jump on the back of it, that’s great, it will be much appreciated. We have gone through some tough times of late and they’re driven in a way that it’s a pretty special changeroom to be in. I am incredibly proud of where they’ve come from in a short space of time and the results that are coming through are fantastic for everyone.”
Having been part of previous Proteas’ teams that have triumphed in India, England and Australia, where does Boucher rank this success considering everything that has gone beforehand?
“It has to be up there … top five … as you say where we come from … off-field stuff … It is good to get some good results. This group have been through a lot together as a unit,” the former wicket-keeper said.
For the Proteas to get over the line it was always going to require a herculean effort from the senior players such as captain Dean Elgar (235 runs at 47), Temba Bavuma (221 runs at 73.66), Kagiso Rabada (20 wickets at 19.05) and Lungi Ngidi (15 wickets at 15), but they also required the younger generation such as Keegan Petersen and Marco Jansen to show they had the stomach – and more importantly the ability – to front up to the much-vaunted Indians.
Petersen, who struck a career-best 82 in the successful run chase, certainly did with a Player of the Series performance – 276 runs at an average of 46.00 – while Jansen’s debut series yielded 19 wickets at 16.47.
“Keegan didn’t start off in the West Indies like he may have wanted to, and then he didn’t start off too well at SuperSport Park, but he has always shown signs of the player that we are seeing right now,” he said.
“He’s just stuck to his guns. He is in a good position to have a guy like Dean next to him who really does back him. I think he’s a tough nut because batting at No 3 in Test cricket you have to be tough. You have to know your game, technically you have to be sound as well, and for him hopefully he just gets better and better. The way he has come through this series I am just at loss for words.”
Boucher was equally full of praise for the 21-year-old all-rounder Jansen.
“It was just a matter of time before he came through. He was with us in Pakistan and West Indies. We could see the skill-set that he possessed and the variation that he’s got that is hard to find.
“He didn’t start off too well, but after that first day everyone is probably looking at him now and saying what a find we’ve got in another addition to our bowling attack. He is only 21 years old and still h s a lot of cricket to learn but we’ve seen great signs that he can bat as well so we feel that we’ve found a superstar in him.”