By Meit Sampat
Test cricket is the ultimate format – something any cricketer, be it a debutant or one playing his 100th Test, will endorse. West Indies dominated this format in the 80s. The Australians were dominant in the 90s and a major part in the 2000s. India were the No 1 team for a year or so followed by England’s rule for a year. But there is a change of guard with South Africa on top of the heap.
Be it home or away, South Africa are the team to watch out for. Two major series victories last year took them to the top of the 2012 rankings. It’s not easy to beat England in England and Australia in Australia. But South Africa beat England 2-0 and Australia 1-0.
Graeme Smith can find a place in any team in the world. With youngsters like Alviro Petersen and Faf du Plessis joining the ranks, the batting seems to be in safe hands. The free-stroking AB de Villiers scored 33 in 246 minutes to save the Adelaide Test against Australia in November last year. In the same Test, debutant du Plessis batted 466 balls for 110 runs to save the same Test. It speaks volumes about the temperament of these players.
The South African bowling attack is the best in the world when it comes to the pace. Dale Steyn is the best fast bowler in contemporary cricket. He has 300 Test wickets in his kitty and with around four to five years of cricket ahead of him he could swell that tally to 500. History is replete with examples of fast bowlers hunting in pairs: Dennis Lillee-Jeff Thomson, Wasim Akram-Waqar Younis, Courtney Walsh-Curtly Ambrose and Allan Donald-Shaun Pollock to name a few. Steyn has support at the other end in the form of Morne Morkel, who makes it doubly potent. But if one goes back in time, the dominant sides of the past had in excess of three fast bowlers at their command – the West Indies had a four-pronged attack under Clive Lloyd while the Australian juggernaut under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting had Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie. The present South African side has Vernon Philander to support Steyn and Morkel. Philander has eight five-for innings hauls in 13 Tests, in which he has captured 74 wickets.
The challenge ahead for South Africa is to retain the No 1 slot. Beating England in England, two series wins in Australia in 2008 and 2012, two drawn series against India is ample proof that they have it in them to dominate world cricket for years to come. They have not lost a Test series abroad in a long time. They did not lose a Test in 2012 and have started 2013 on a positive note by thrashing New Zealand.
Jacques Kallis is 37. He does not have too many years of cricket ahead of him, given his workload. All-rounder of Kallis’s quality is rare to find. South Africa have tried Paul Harris, Imran Tahir and now Robin Peterson, but have not found a high quality spinner yet. If they fine one, the bowling attack will perfect one.
Factoring a mix of exciting youth and brilliant experience, South Africa can well go on to dominate international cricket for a few years, especially with Gary Kirsten’s superb backroom support.
(Meit Sampat loves blogging and reading. His passion for cricket has got him invited as a guest on TV cricket shows)