Hashim Amla celebrates, as Proteas legend Jacques Kallis looks on, after becoming the first batsman to wscore a triple century in a Test match during a 2012 game against England in 2012.

CAPE TOWN - The Ashes kicked off with all its usual fanfare in the early hours of Thursday morning. For those who believe Test cricket is on its last legs, that message has certainly not been delivered Down Under yet, with the people of Brisbane flocking to the Gabba on the opening day.

After two months of trash talk and worrying over the impact Ben Stokes’ absence would have on the England team, play finally got under way in the middle.

There is certainly something special about the Ashes - a rivalry that dates back over a century. Reputations are made - or ruined - through performances in the series.

The intense rivalry has got me thinking. Who really are the Proteas’ greatest rivals? Many would like to believe it is the Baggy Greens from Australia.

There is great mutual respect between the two teams, and the intensity when these countries meet is always very high which often leads to a classic series, but South Africa are not Australia’s premier rivals.

That right is reserved for the Poms - even they were particularly ordinary during the 1990’s.

Is it then India? Born from the fact that they were the first team to visit South African for a Test upon re-admission, there could be a reason for debate.

India, though, have their own “Asian Ashes’’ with Pakistan that has its unique special qualities.

So, who can South Africa regard as their premier rivals? It can’t be Africanised with Zimbabwe hardly playing any Test cricket these days while the rivalry with New Zealand is consigned to the rugby fields and the Black Caps too have a greater dislike for their Trans-Tasman rivals.

All of this made me realise that the Proteas’ greatest rival is in fact the ignorance of the entire cricket world.

Due to 27 years of isolation, an entire global generation of cricket spectators grew up in the world without watching South Africa’s cricketers.

All they remember is “Botham’s 1981 Ashes” and Sachin Tendulkar’s teenage debut against Waqar Younis that fuels the legacy of those series.

It is therefore that the current group of Proteas and those who have recently moved on - that have a great responsibility in creating the new memories.

Already there is the iconic phrase “JP Duminy you Superstar” when the Cape Cobras captain stroked a majestic 166 at the MCG to seal South Africa’s maiden series win in Australia, while Hashim Amla and The Oval will forever be linked due to Amla’s record 311 not out against England.

Equally, Dale Steyn’s majestic reverse-swing at Nagpur and Graeme Smith lifting the ICC golden mace at Lord’s in 2012 will always be inspiring.

Likewise Temba Bavuma’s century at Newlands and Kagiso Rabada’s 10-for at SuperSport Park during the England series in 2015 is the beacon for the new generation to aspire to.

The Proteas don’t need rivals. They need heroes. And with India and Australia set to visit these shores this summer, there are plenty of opportunities to leave a legacy that will forever be remembered. Just like in the Ashes

Cape Times

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