South Africa in Australia 2012-13 October 29, 2012

Road warriors defend imposing record


When Allan Border went almost four years without a Test century between 1988 and 1992, the phrase "not since Faisalabad" became an increasingly weary staple for radio commentators and touring correspondents. South Africa's Test tourists in Australia are similarly accompanied by the words "not since Colombo", but for altogether more auspicious reasons.

Six long years have passed since the South Africans were last beaten in a series away from home, a 2-0 reverse in Sri Lanka in 2006. To quantify this achievement, it must be noted that in more than a decade of dominance between 1995 and 2008, the longest stretch of years Australia could manage between Test series defeats on the road was four, between 2001 and 2005.

Given the garlands laid out for that Australian side, the South Africans deserve a certain level of reverence for their ability to keep confounding opponents in their own territory, most recently England during the northern summer. They may not be the Invincibles, but the squad that arrived in Australia on Sunday can most definitely be termed the Road Warriors.

Their captain, Graeme Smith, believes the team's ability to prosper overseas developed out of maturity and stability. In keeping a team together, the players learned to work with each other, becoming friends as well as team-mates, and going past any sense of fear or uncertainty about the unknowns of foreign climes to develop a sense of confidence and anticipation about any and every challenge that might be presented, whether it be a sharply turning pitch in Kanpur or the green-tinged seamer that is likely to greet them in Brisbane next week.

"We started to get a team together that could adapt to conditions," Smith said. "The maturity of the team in terms of growing as we've gone on ... and the players are settled and able to adapt to conditions not only on the pitch but off the field. All the different challenges that you face on a tour now, I think we're able to meet them. I think the team handles being away from home in a good space and in a mature way.

"It's about understanding how you're going to be successful in the environment that you're playing. We've got a few experienced guys around now that have toured a fair bit and hopefully we use that experience well. Certainly I think it's the challenge that we look forward to, of winning in someone else's backyard. It's a tough thing to do and I think that challenge is something that excites us."

That excitement was never more palpable than during South Africa's last visit to Australia in 2008-09. Helmed by the captain/coach duo of Smith and Mickey Arthur, the tourists wriggled out of dire positions in each of the first two Tests to secure a dramatic series victory, inflicting Australia's first defeat at home since the West Indies in 1993. Those memories provide Smith with confidence about the matches ahead.

"To beat Australia in those stadiums and those environments is something that I don't think South Africans had dreamt of for a very long time," Smith said. "For us to be able to achieve that and be there in those moments was incredible. It probably took us a little bit of time to recover from those highs but since that return leg from Australia we've been pretty steady and consistent in our performances and maybe that was the stepping stone for the success that we've had.

"Winning here four years ago is something that you know you've done before. Certainly it does help in the self-belief factor knowing that you've overcome a hurdle before. I think the achievements the team has put together the last few years, with England just gone by, we obviously do arrive here with a self-belief that we can perform well."

While Arthur now mentors the opposition, South Africa have in Gary Kirsten a calm character and a calming influence, happy to inherit a team that was already well advanced in its quest to build a record that will stand alongside those of other great teams. His challenge is to go one better than Arthur had done, by keeping South Africa at No. 1 in the ICC's rankings for a sustained period. That quest, and the maintenance of such an imposing record overseas, are both at stake over these three Tests in Australia.

"It's a well set team, it's a well balanced team, there's a lot of experience in it and I think they are hardened Test cricketers in the team so they're familiar with the different conditions that they're confronted with," Kirsten said. "I was particularly proud of the guys the way they went about our business in England. There were some pressure moments throughout that series and we responded well to that."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 1, 2012, 14:53 GMT

    @Grant King If you say that top order batsmen have no difficulty facing raw pace and lee took mainly all his wickets of tailenders. i would suggest you to watch some of the videos of fast bowling of brett lee and tell me how many of them were top order batsmen and how many of them were lower order. And mind u..combining both test and ODI's brett lee has got sachin tendulkar out the most no. of times equalling with chaminda vaas n shaun pollock. The day Brett Lee retired from international cricket many cricketers gave him tributes and one of them was a really interesting one. Paul Collingwood tweeted "A lot of batsmen around the world will have a very peaceful sleep tonight"

  • Dummy4 on November 1, 2012, 13:32 GMT

    ScottStevo you believe all ausies are better than the rest. Steyn has been the top quick bowler for how many years now. He has taken wickets all over the world. Yes in India also. And i'm glad you are under estimating philander. Hope your batsmen do the same. Only time will tell what the result will be. Lets rather wait and see what philander has to offer.

  • Scott on November 1, 2012, 10:46 GMT

    ...and personally, he suffered a lot due to the success of the bowlers around him. Mainly due to ridiulcously aggressive field settings. At Lee's pace, just about anything half decently timed raced to the fences and edges flew long distances, most top edges going all the way over the ropes! He was the bowler that always looked threatening and yet his figures looked disappointing. I'm sure we've all seen it before, bowlers troubling batsmen and beating the outside edge all day and walk away wicketless only for some part timer to throw down a few half volleys and full tosses and pick up a few wickets. You wouldn't say that guy bowled better, but the stat record will say he did. I hear your argument, over the course of a career this would even itself out...Maybe so, not so when you've got McGrath, Warne, Gillespie, S Clark taking as many as they did... You may look at his stats and claim he wasn't 'a great', but I can assure you, after watching almost all of his test matches, he was.

  • Scott on November 1, 2012, 10:39 GMT

    Saffie1987, I don't know what you're talking about but Steyn does NOT have a better average than McGrath. Obviously you fall under the "Steyn is the greatest ever" category of those who are recent viewers of the sport...Nevertheless, it's never good rant if you not totally obvlivious to the facts! And again, no, Steyn will never be as good as McGrath and Philander, you must be joking...He started well and is a good stump to stump guy, somewhat similar to McGrath, except he lacks the height and thus bounce that McGrath got. When the decks aren't lively, he'll struggle as a medium pacer...

    Back to Lee, he was great. He started with 42 wickets in 7 tests and then hit injury concerns (fair play to Steyn, he's been managed brilliantly in this respect) which never left. Also, to add to my point re McGrath and co., post their retirements B Lee averaged 21 - better than Steyn's average. Also, I fear that Lee's figures don't always give the full picture of how well he bowled....

  • Kieron on November 1, 2012, 1:34 GMT

    @ ScotSteve: I dunno what you are talking about mate, but Steyn is on course of getting more wickets than Mcgrath and has a better strikerate and average Than Mcgrath! You are probably one of thise " Die-Hard Mcgrath Fans" who will always feel that Mcgrath is the best and no one will overhaul him! Well i have got news for you Scottiestevie, Not only will Steyn end up as a greater bowler than Mcgrath, Vernon Philander will also end up being better than Glen Mcgrath! I know dude, the thruth hurts, but those are the facts!

  • Dummy4 on October 31, 2012, 15:06 GMT

    ScottStevo Lee's test average is 42plus in aus and 27plus in SA against SA. Lets rather leave it there. 310 wickets in tests. Steyn 287 in 57 tests. Ntini also took more, and pollock. Brett lee was not that great.

  • Scott on October 31, 2012, 9:39 GMT

    @Phat-Boy, Brett Lee was a fantastic test bowler and is certainly a great quick. Dale Steyn is also a great quick and rest assured, he'd be quite happy to finish his career across all formats being comparable to Brett Lee...Steyn's test record will always look a lot better than Lee's as Steyn hasn't ever had McGrath (who Steyn will never be as good as) and Warne taking all of the wickets from the other end...!

    To the facebook poster, Brett Lee was quick enough to rile even the best of batsmen. Don't get me wrong, these guys are pretty good at facing this sort of pace, but Lee was a yard or two quicker than most, and that fraction of second was more than enough...A quick search on youtube and you'll see what I mean.

  • Dummy4 on October 31, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    Ojasv Taneja we are talking about test cricket. Where the batsmen don't have to play wide deliveries and keep up with the run rate. They can play you out and wait for the bad ball.

  • Dummy4 on October 31, 2012, 7:20 GMT

    @Phat-Boy Let me make some things clear. dale steyn in many interviews has said that he considered brett lee as his role model. Brett lee has been one of the finest fast bowlers in the history of the game and specially if you consider the injuries and setbacks he has had over his career which affected his test career. Both lee and steyn are great fast bowlers but lee was much much quicker than steyn, may be that is why he had so many injuries during his career. But in order to get somthing, one has to sacrifise something as well. Brett lee is the fastest bowler to take 250, 300 and 350 wickets in ODI's.

  • Dummy4 on October 31, 2012, 6:50 GMT

    yes brett lee bowled very fast, but is that the thing that ensure you get wickets. Maybe the tail but the top order guys are more than capeble to face 160plus deliveries. Yes australia have 3 140km/h bowlers but do that give you the wickets. Line and lenght and movement and swing and consistancy is what gets you the most wickets. Please write off SA in this series. It's better to fight as the underdog. Lets hope this series is a close afair.

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