Not many in England gave South Africa a chance of winning the series before it began. But the Proteas did well to overcome the pressure exerted by the English media and make a strong statement with their performance. Karthik Parimal talks about why this South African side can go on to dominate for a long period like the Australians of the yesteryear.
“England have the look of a very settled squad and on paper should have enough to beat South Africa on home soil,” stated an English website before the commencement of the series. Little did they know that they couldn’t have been more wrong with their predictions.
An opinion poll conducted by the same website, again prior to the series, revealed that 75% of the English population had put their money on England to seal a comfortable victory. But the South Africans did well to be least bothered by such baseless opinions and the unwanted pressure exerted by the English media. They meticulously and diligently made plans to spoil the English party. Despite facing setbacks in the form of a freak injury to Mark Boucher, who was not only an ace wicket-keeper but also an integral part of the unit, the South Africans left no stone unturned to rightfully get to where they belong.
A 0-2 loss to South Africa was least expected considering the quality of cricket the English have been playing in home conditions since the last couple of years. However, there is no element of surprise in such results anymore. Same time last year, India, ranked No.1 then, were steamrolled 0-4 by an almost identical English side. Andnow, England has relinquished its crown to South Africa, but unlike India, they were playing in their own backyard. That makes the two cases somewhat similar. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that both India and England didn’t deserve to top the charts.
The obvious reason for having termed both these teams as unworthy of the top spot is because the side that can play well in the subcontinent continues to struggle away from it, whereas the team that plays well in seaming conditions is yet to dominate in the subcontinent. There should have been no doubt that both these teams would soon embark on a downward spiral. South Africa is the only side that has managed to perform consistently well all over the world. Therefore, it’s apt to say that they totally deserve to own the No.1 spot in Test cricket. Rarely have they struggled to come to terms with alien conditions.
It’s safe to say that South Africa is the most balanced side when compared to the other Test playing nations. India never had or has a bowling line-up that can pick 20 wickets, and it doesn’t appear as though that fact could change in the immediate future, whereas the English batsmen have never really been good at adapting to different conditions. The less we speak about their issues off the field, the better. On the other hand, South Africa’s bowling attack comprises of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, and needless to say, even if one of them isn’t used, the other two are more than capable of demolishing an opposition themselves.
The batting department adapts to all formats with nonchalant ease. Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy can all be a force to reckon with irrespective of the format. Amla, currently ranked No.2 in the list featuring the best Test batsmen, went to the extent of saying that he wasn’t even the second-best batsman in his team, let alone overall. But although that statement can be attributed to his modesty, the fact remains that South Africa currently has some of the best batsmen in its line-up.
Moreover, Smith’s amazing tribute to Boucher by wearing a shirt bearing the words 'We miss you Bouch', spoke volumes for the team’s camaraderie. It is something that is very essential to get to the top. A sturdy batting and bowling department combined with comradeship is a very powerful combination, and hence it’s no surprise that the South Africans have been doing so well. It’s evident that the players enjoy each other’s success.
There was a musical chairs contest between a few teams at the top. India owned the position for a brief period of time, and later it was England. But now, the side that truly deserves the crown has finally been crowned. Unlike India and England, South Africa are capable of staying at the top for a long period of time considering the firepower in their artillery. The other teams could possibly give them a run for their money, but there is no immediate threat. Few sides like Australia are undergoing a transition, whereas few others need an overhaul to get back on track. However, for now, none of the sides appear as established as the Proteas.
Looking at how they outplayed one of the best Test teams in the world, the South Africans are capable of emulating the Australian team that dominated from mid-90s for more than a decade. Like that Australian side, South Africa has one of the fiercest bowling attacks, and combined with a stable batting unit, they can wreak havoc irrespective of the circumstances, conditions or the opposition. Now that they haven’t choked on the biggest stage of Test cricket, they could soon carry this brilliant form on the overs-limit format as well.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)