South Africa's great team-spirit and character are main reasons why they are world-beaters in Test cricket

Graeme Smith has so far lead South Africa to 51 Test wins © AFP

South Africa’s monumental win against Pakistan in the second Test has proved more than one thing. While they are truly the world’s best Test side, but having a bunch of fantastic players is not enough. They have great team spirit and great character. Shrikant Shankar explains the reasons of their success for the last seven years.

Ever since the great Australian side withered away by 2008, there was an interesting debate in cricket circles about who will be the next dominant force. There were three teams that became the top-ranked side in Tests apart from Australia after that — England, India and South Africa. India had their highs and sat atop the world rankings from 2010 to mid-2011. Many said that it was their home form that took them to the very top. Then it was England’s turn. They whitewashed India in 2011 in England and dethroned them.

Then the mantle of the best Test side went to South Africa. With their recent win against Pakistan in the second Test in Dubai, South Africa have managed to go seven years unbeaten in a Test series away from home. Captain Graeme Smith has demanded for more respect given to his team. The reasons for his demands are simple. There is a feeling that, although there is no doubt South Africa are a fantastic team, there are not many top international sides to challenge them in Tests for a sustained period.

South Africa have some brilliant individuals in their team. They have the best fast bowler of modern times in Dale Steyn. There is another fast bowler in Morne Morkel, who can be world-class on his day. The phenomenon that is Vernon Philander adds variety to their bowling attack. They have some of the finest batsmen in AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith, the always in-form Hashim Amla and the ever green Jacques Kallis. Smith has led South Africa in 51 Test wins.

They lack a bit in the spin department, but there are bowlers who can be useful rather than being spectacular. But individual quality can only do so much. Even other teams have their fair share of great individuals. And sometimes the opposition may just have a better day than you. So, how did South Africa face the different challenges and conditions of away tours to rise to the top? The answer to that is a fantastic team spirit and great character.

Often in these testing away series, South Africa have been on the ropes. But many-a-time, it was not one of the above mentioned players that bailed them out. It is the squad players and less-than spectacular individuals that have performed to their fullest, before the stars come and win it for them. When South Africa toured India in 2008, Virender Sehwag made all the headlines in the first Test at Chennai. His 319 off 304 balls gave India a lead and there was a remote chance that they could rattle South Africa on the last day to take a 1-0 lead. But Neil McKenzie’s dogged 155 off 339 balls made sure that the match ended in a draw. They thrashed India in the second Test before losing the third to end the series 1-1.

They travelled to England later that year and looked all set for a loss in the first Test at Lord’s, but again it was McKenzie, who ensured a draw with a 447-ball 138 in the second innings. They won the next two Tests and lost the fourth to win the series 2-1. Then came the historic series in Australia. They had their backs against the wall in both the first two Tests ad Perth and Melbourne. But they had the likes of JP Duminy and Dale Steyn’s batting to thank as they won both those Tests, before losing the third and final.

South Africa drew a two-Test away series against India 1-1. They then went to England in 2012 and beat them 2-0 in a three-Test series. Then came another serious Test in Australia in 2012-13. They drew the first Test in Brisbane, but were for large parts second best in the match. They had an extraordinary Faf du Plessis to thank as they held on for the most improbable of draws in the second Test in Adelaide. After Australia’s resistance was broken, they steamrolled the hosts to win the third Test in Perth to clinch the series 1-0.

There have been many more great wins for the Proteas over the course of the last seven years. This just goes to show that they have a great team spirit and they rely not only on their highly talented individuals, but also others in the team to get the job done. They are definitely not the world-beating Australia, but for now they will do as the world’s best team. At least in the Tests.

(Shrikant Shankar previously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)