Proteas captain Graeme Smith.

Johannesburg – Statistics. As viewers of sport we love them. We all delve deeply into the numbers hoping they will tell us some amazing story, explain greatness, mediocrity and what makes one player better than another.

In football, it’s Messi’s goals. Does that make him better than Pele or Maradona?

Rugby has tackles made and tackles missed. You can go on and on about first serve percentages in tennis. Golf, driving accuracy. Athletics, Usain Bolt’s stride pattern.

And cricket? Besides baseball, there’s no other sport capable of burying you under a heap of statistics quite like cricket. Averages, strike rates, fours hit, sixes hit, number of times dismissed at slip, or lbw or bowled. Runs made in the first innings, compared to runs made in the fourth innings. Do bowlers dismiss more top-order batsmen than lower-order batsmen? What do they average on the sub-continent or against left-handers?

And while you’re downing a few cold ones, throwing around all those statistics can make you sound clever. South African cricket fans are fixated with statistics. So when Graeme Smith declared South Africa’s second innings closed with Hashim Amla not out on 74 at the Wanderers recently, all manner of conspiratorial vitriol flowed on the social media platforms with people claiming Smith deliberately denied Amla a chance to make a 20th Test century.

I had a taste of that vitriol in 2010, when Amla made 254 in the Nagpur Test, with people saying Smith also deliberately denied Amla the chance of eclipsing what was then AB de Villiers’ Test record score of 278.

It happened again at Newlands on Sunday, though with slightly less fury when Vernon Pilander didn’t bowl after lunch in pursuit of his third Test “ten-for”. He finished with nine for the match, and was also pretty exhausted having had to carry the extra workload following the injury to Morkel.

But do you think Philander or Amla gave a damn about those statistical landmarks? Here’s the only landmark statistic they worry about. It’s also the only statistic every top sportsman worries about, be it Messi, Pele, Federer, Bolt or Habana – that statistic is: number of WINS.

So as you sit down to watch South Africa’s final Test of the summer this weekend, and see if Smith goes to a 27th Test century or if Kallis can get his batting average back up to 57, ponder this stat – Test wins.

Philander has played in 10 Test wins out of 15 matches, Amla 37 in 69 Tests and as captain, Smith has won 49 times in 101 Tests. No one has captained a side to 50 Test wins. That’s a very impressive statistic. – The Star