Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day December 3, 2012

Ponting's high praise for Smith's men

South Africa overcame significant trouble in the first two Tests and produced a compelling performance in the third
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In the reams that will be written about South Africa's success in Australia, one accolade is likely to get repeated more than others. Ricky Ponting praised South Africa for not being "too scared" to impose themselves and said they had "total belief" that they could win the series. For a team that is often accused of lacking killer instinct, those words could become their most prized compliment.

The final hours of the Perth Test required little bravery from South Africa. Having set Australia an improbable chase, despite the amount of time left in the game, the Test mace was already half-packed to make the journey back to Johannesburg. The valour had come two days before, when South Africa seized control decisively in a fashion they have not been known for before.

The bowling attack, which had only trundled in the previous two Tests, finally sped up with the roar of a race car. Inspired by Dale Steyn's aggression, South Africa sliced through Australia's first innings, knocking them over for 163 and securing a 62-run lead. The way they steered the Test in the evening session on the second day was even more remarkable. Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla changed the course of the match with a batting performance that appeared so effortlessly quick, and in hindsight that was the reason Australia couldn't find a way back in.

For Smith, that second day "has got to go down as one of the highlights of South African cricket." It was the day the No. 1 team played like a No. 1 team.

"That was them trying to impose themselves on the series and they did it better than I have seen any team take a game away from the opposition before," Ponting said. "A lot of the other teams we have played against over the years that have been in a position like that have been too scared to do that and push the game forward. What they did the other day was a sign that they had total belief in what they were doing. They put us under more pressure than I think we have been under for a long time so they thoroughly deserved to win this series."

It was "not the perfect series," as Smith put it, because injuries threatened team balance and South Africa had to make changes in every Test, something that goes against their consistency in selection.

After the first four days of the series in Brisbane, South Africa showed they could be vulnerable. After nine days of the series, they had banished that thought with a display of immense defensive capability despite all the hurdles, which included playing with 10 men. After 11 days, they attacked.

In Adelaide, South Africa had to bat more than four sessions to avoid losing and showed temperament that is too good to be called "scrapping," whatever Smith may say, to ensure safety. In Perth, they asked Australia to do the same thing but over a longer period of time. With an attack that had the three quick bowlers who have come to symbolise South Africa's resources over the last year, Smith had confidence that Australia would not be able to pull off the same kind of escape.

South Africa even changed their attitude towards including a spinner, according to circumstances. In Brisbane, they did not play one, in Adelaide they probably wished they hadn't played one, and in Perth they chose the defensive spinner in Robin Peterson over the attacking legspinner Imran Tahir. Peterson went beyond his brief.

A contribution like Peterson's is the kind that goes unnoticed when there is an angry Steyn steaming in, a flawless Amla painting pictures with his bat, and a born-again AB de Villiers on the charge. Peterson took six wickets in the match, cleaning up the tail to give his team a first-innings lead, and taking important middle-order wickets in the fourth innings.

"If you can see how much it takes to win away from home, it takes a team effort, not just one or two people to be able to win series," Smith said. "That's the outstanding thing about our team. Everyone is contributing and pulling their weight. It's been outstanding. What we've been able to achieve, it will take a long time for people to understand."

South Africa have not been home much this year and touring is tough, but it has probably suited their style of play. In the six-year period in which they have not lost away from home, South Africa won eight away series and drew two. At home, they won six series, drew three and lost one.

Unlike most teams that create fortresses in their own backyards, most of the players felt the group connected better when they are away because there was more opportunity to bond. They used the time to create a team culture that is braver than ones of the past.

Ponting said South Africa are currently "dominating," world cricket and qualified that praise. "Dominate is a strong word because it means extended periods of excellence."

Over the last four years, South Africa won series in England and Australia in the same year twice. "To have done it twice in a row is the proudest achievement of my career," Smith said. And they are the most important moments in South Africa's cricket too.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • munchovski on December 4, 2012, 15:38 GMT

    Awesome job boys. the whole tour was a testament to south africa's development as a test team that knows when and where to manipulate the flow of a match to win a series'. graeme smith has developed into one of the truly great test captains and kudos to south african cricket for recognising it early. as a saffa living in australia it feels like the 95 world cup in many ways. big ups to all of the boys. i couldn't be more proud of my heritage

  • philvic on December 4, 2012, 13:01 GMT

    I dont think SA are dominating yet but they could still do so if they can improve at home (and stop playing in Durban). It is a bit rich to say that Sa dont have depth in comparison to great Austarlian team. Australia's strength was largely down to Warne - yes there were other good players but Warne was the difference.

  • Pathiyal on December 4, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    its a milestone in the SA cricket history. gr8 all round cricket from them.

  • Pablo123 on December 4, 2012, 6:05 GMT

    Arrow011 - Gary Kirsten is a great player, mentor and coach, but do not attribute SA's cricketing success to him please. He has only been at the realm for a little over a year and they (SA), have been the top team in all forms of cricket for around 4 years now. The rankings just never showed it.

    For me, I'd say firstly, the players are applying their skill correctly and it is all a foundation set by Mickey Arthur, Australia's current coach. So I would expect AUS to come climbing back to near the top, really soon. Top team.

  • xylo on December 4, 2012, 4:38 GMT

    Congratulations to the Proteas! However, I hope that South Africa do not lose perspective in this moment of glory and succumb to the future like India did. I hope that a) they shore up the spin department, b) figure out what to do with the wicketkeeping spot, c) prime a replacement for Kallis, d) probably look at rotating their most experienced bowlers - Steyn and Morkel. That was the beauty of the Australian team at its pinnacle, when the replacement for an injured player would be as good as the best player of its opposition.

  • Humdingers on December 4, 2012, 3:54 GMT

    @SurlyCynic - I don't think anyone can deny them being No.1. By far the most consistent team (even though they did lose and draw at home more than overseas). The question is about dominating - which is not drawing and winning 1-0, but whitewashes and 3-0 series wins. This team can't do that, although if they played every game like the Perth one, that could change. Then of course there is the World-Cup hoodoo....

  • Humdingers on December 4, 2012, 3:51 GMT

    Fantastic effort. Beating Eng in Eng and Aus in Aus is one of the hardest things to do. They need to book a plane over to India now and capitalize on India's frailty right now and make it India in India as well. Unfortunately can't see them "Dominating" world cricket. They have no depth like the Aussies and Windies had - who would replace Styen or Amla if injuries occur? Once Kallis goes that will leave a hole. Once Smith leaves, that would leave an even bigger one. But like all things in sport, that's what makes it such an appeal.

  • on December 3, 2012, 23:51 GMT

    I think this series was fantastic. No longer are us Aussies on top. We have to fight for our meals like everyone else, and that makes for almost documentary like entertainment. I wonder who the next team to become that dominant will be. :-D

  • Moppa on December 3, 2012, 23:48 GMT

    @henchart, this is some of the most ridiculous cherry-picking of results I've ever seen. Australia's win-loss ratio in Tests from 1999 to 2006 inclusive was around 5.5: 72 wins to 13 losses with 13 draws. If you extend to 1995 to 2006, it falls to 3.8 (95-25-22). Let's say the best of the "Smith era" began after the 5-0 home-and-away loss to Australia in 2005-06, and look at the Proteas record from April 2006 til today. South Africa's win-loss ratio is 2.2, with 33 wins, 15 losses and 15 draws (incidentally, Australia's W/L in that same period is 2.17). And that's even before we get to ODIs and Australia's three consecutive World Cups (undefeated in World Cups from May 1999 to March 2011) vs South Africa's... hmmm, they've never made the final, have they? The Proteas are good, and deserving no.1s, but you're kidding yourself.

  • StaalBurgher on December 3, 2012, 22:01 GMT

    @AltafPatel - As a Saffer I hope we do dominate for 5 years but I don't think it is possible to "predict". At best it is a guess. Peterson did ok, and maybe he will go on from here and make a big impact, but despite the wickets he took it seemed like the Ozzies were able to score too easily off him. SA still has a weakness when it comes to a Test spinner, because Peterson (despite this good performance) is unproven. Given Steyn, Kallis and Smith's ages they are only guaranteed another 2 years probably. After that... it will depend heavily on what talent comes through the domestic leagues and that is not really possible predict at this point.

  • munchovski on December 4, 2012, 15:38 GMT

    Awesome job boys. the whole tour was a testament to south africa's development as a test team that knows when and where to manipulate the flow of a match to win a series'. graeme smith has developed into one of the truly great test captains and kudos to south african cricket for recognising it early. as a saffa living in australia it feels like the 95 world cup in many ways. big ups to all of the boys. i couldn't be more proud of my heritage

  • philvic on December 4, 2012, 13:01 GMT

    I dont think SA are dominating yet but they could still do so if they can improve at home (and stop playing in Durban). It is a bit rich to say that Sa dont have depth in comparison to great Austarlian team. Australia's strength was largely down to Warne - yes there were other good players but Warne was the difference.

  • Pathiyal on December 4, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    its a milestone in the SA cricket history. gr8 all round cricket from them.

  • Pablo123 on December 4, 2012, 6:05 GMT

    Arrow011 - Gary Kirsten is a great player, mentor and coach, but do not attribute SA's cricketing success to him please. He has only been at the realm for a little over a year and they (SA), have been the top team in all forms of cricket for around 4 years now. The rankings just never showed it.

    For me, I'd say firstly, the players are applying their skill correctly and it is all a foundation set by Mickey Arthur, Australia's current coach. So I would expect AUS to come climbing back to near the top, really soon. Top team.

  • xylo on December 4, 2012, 4:38 GMT

    Congratulations to the Proteas! However, I hope that South Africa do not lose perspective in this moment of glory and succumb to the future like India did. I hope that a) they shore up the spin department, b) figure out what to do with the wicketkeeping spot, c) prime a replacement for Kallis, d) probably look at rotating their most experienced bowlers - Steyn and Morkel. That was the beauty of the Australian team at its pinnacle, when the replacement for an injured player would be as good as the best player of its opposition.

  • Humdingers on December 4, 2012, 3:54 GMT

    @SurlyCynic - I don't think anyone can deny them being No.1. By far the most consistent team (even though they did lose and draw at home more than overseas). The question is about dominating - which is not drawing and winning 1-0, but whitewashes and 3-0 series wins. This team can't do that, although if they played every game like the Perth one, that could change. Then of course there is the World-Cup hoodoo....

  • Humdingers on December 4, 2012, 3:51 GMT

    Fantastic effort. Beating Eng in Eng and Aus in Aus is one of the hardest things to do. They need to book a plane over to India now and capitalize on India's frailty right now and make it India in India as well. Unfortunately can't see them "Dominating" world cricket. They have no depth like the Aussies and Windies had - who would replace Styen or Amla if injuries occur? Once Kallis goes that will leave a hole. Once Smith leaves, that would leave an even bigger one. But like all things in sport, that's what makes it such an appeal.

  • on December 3, 2012, 23:51 GMT

    I think this series was fantastic. No longer are us Aussies on top. We have to fight for our meals like everyone else, and that makes for almost documentary like entertainment. I wonder who the next team to become that dominant will be. :-D

  • Moppa on December 3, 2012, 23:48 GMT

    @henchart, this is some of the most ridiculous cherry-picking of results I've ever seen. Australia's win-loss ratio in Tests from 1999 to 2006 inclusive was around 5.5: 72 wins to 13 losses with 13 draws. If you extend to 1995 to 2006, it falls to 3.8 (95-25-22). Let's say the best of the "Smith era" began after the 5-0 home-and-away loss to Australia in 2005-06, and look at the Proteas record from April 2006 til today. South Africa's win-loss ratio is 2.2, with 33 wins, 15 losses and 15 draws (incidentally, Australia's W/L in that same period is 2.17). And that's even before we get to ODIs and Australia's three consecutive World Cups (undefeated in World Cups from May 1999 to March 2011) vs South Africa's... hmmm, they've never made the final, have they? The Proteas are good, and deserving no.1s, but you're kidding yourself.

  • StaalBurgher on December 3, 2012, 22:01 GMT

    @AltafPatel - As a Saffer I hope we do dominate for 5 years but I don't think it is possible to "predict". At best it is a guess. Peterson did ok, and maybe he will go on from here and make a big impact, but despite the wickets he took it seemed like the Ozzies were able to score too easily off him. SA still has a weakness when it comes to a Test spinner, because Peterson (despite this good performance) is unproven. Given Steyn, Kallis and Smith's ages they are only guaranteed another 2 years probably. After that... it will depend heavily on what talent comes through the domestic leagues and that is not really possible predict at this point.

  • Rahulbose on December 3, 2012, 21:46 GMT

    The second day of this test match was truly exceptional. Only the greatest teams have shown such belief and audacious turn around in a single day. Long term though SA does have some problems, specially with Kallis nearing the end of his career.

  • AltafPatel on December 3, 2012, 19:34 GMT

    SA would dominate the cricket for years to come. They have average age of current experience players around 29-30 while there are others making place in the team that ensures SA will dominate the world for atleast 5 years to come.

  • Shan156 on December 3, 2012, 17:28 GMT

    How many series has the self-proclaiming "best team ever", SA, won in the sub-continent? Why does Saffa Bradman Amla average only 50? Why did the Saffers hide the Saffa McGrath Philander for the second test citing injury? And, why oh why, did they drop the Saffa Warne, Tahir for the third test? Isn't Steyn supposed to better than Marshall? Then, why was he virtually nowhere among the wickets in the first two tests? The arrogant Saffers have a long way to go before they could even be mentioned in the same breath as the great Windies/Aussie teams. I hope cricinfo publishes this.

  • Dhanvanth on December 3, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    As i have been repeatedly saying, south Africa is the only team that has been ever consistent everytime..probly they are not lucky enough to dominate cricket as Australia and west Indies previously did!

  • Alexk400 on December 3, 2012, 15:38 GMT

    There was no klenveldt and Imran tahir to give away runs. SA ha sto run TIGHT ship not freebee run bowlers. Klenveldt is no good. I think he is ok bowler what what SA needed is one real fast bowler who can knock out opposition. Steyn can bulldoze with swing but he kinda lose heart against left handers. Pieterson did admirable job getting 3 wickets. Because it reduced the pressure on steyn and morkel. Philander well get bunch of wickets agsint nobodies. You need someone to take wickets and he will do it. But against strong opposition you need 2 bowler who bowl super fast. India lost to same aussie team 4-0. In That way SA did very well. That said for me score is 1-1 because of du plessis crazy inning. SA need to improve bench strength especially they need replacement for kallis alll rounder spot. Then can be number 1 in next 2 years. Steyn did his job as everyone expected him to come with full steam , guns blazing. He did in this test.

  • on December 3, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    It was an excellent show by the Proteas. 1. First Test, SA played with only 10 players(J P Duminy got injured on this first day and not available rest of the match) and draw the test. 2. Second Test, an extraordinary(indeed a miracle) innings from Faf De Plessis of batting the whole day(day 5) to save the test match. 3. Third Test, the return of sublime form of A B De Villiers (169) and remarkable innings of Amla(196) shot down the doors of Aussies for the second consecutive time.

  • SurlyCynic on December 3, 2012, 14:58 GMT

    When you look at that record, losing only 1 test series in 6 years, it's incredible that people have been questioning SA's #1 ranking.

  • Arrow011 on December 3, 2012, 14:52 GMT

    Gary Kirsten the coach deserves all the praise, without him South Africa are no where.

  • InnocentGuy on December 3, 2012, 14:37 GMT

    Genuinely happy for the Saffers. This team totally and completely deserves the #1 rank. Kudos Smith and co. And Kirsten, you're the man!!

  • on December 3, 2012, 14:22 GMT

    Wondering is this is Biff's last Test Series?

  • henchart on December 3, 2012, 14:13 GMT

    Kudos to Proteas.What is only missing is an ICC Trophy be it T 20 or ODI WC.Smith and his men are better than rampaging Aussies of 1990s and early 2000 because of not losing a test series in the India unlike Aussies in 1998 and 2001.

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  • henchart on December 3, 2012, 14:13 GMT

    Kudos to Proteas.What is only missing is an ICC Trophy be it T 20 or ODI WC.Smith and his men are better than rampaging Aussies of 1990s and early 2000 because of not losing a test series in the India unlike Aussies in 1998 and 2001.

  • on December 3, 2012, 14:22 GMT

    Wondering is this is Biff's last Test Series?

  • InnocentGuy on December 3, 2012, 14:37 GMT

    Genuinely happy for the Saffers. This team totally and completely deserves the #1 rank. Kudos Smith and co. And Kirsten, you're the man!!

  • Arrow011 on December 3, 2012, 14:52 GMT

    Gary Kirsten the coach deserves all the praise, without him South Africa are no where.

  • SurlyCynic on December 3, 2012, 14:58 GMT

    When you look at that record, losing only 1 test series in 6 years, it's incredible that people have been questioning SA's #1 ranking.

  • on December 3, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    It was an excellent show by the Proteas. 1. First Test, SA played with only 10 players(J P Duminy got injured on this first day and not available rest of the match) and draw the test. 2. Second Test, an extraordinary(indeed a miracle) innings from Faf De Plessis of batting the whole day(day 5) to save the test match. 3. Third Test, the return of sublime form of A B De Villiers (169) and remarkable innings of Amla(196) shot down the doors of Aussies for the second consecutive time.

  • Alexk400 on December 3, 2012, 15:38 GMT

    There was no klenveldt and Imran tahir to give away runs. SA ha sto run TIGHT ship not freebee run bowlers. Klenveldt is no good. I think he is ok bowler what what SA needed is one real fast bowler who can knock out opposition. Steyn can bulldoze with swing but he kinda lose heart against left handers. Pieterson did admirable job getting 3 wickets. Because it reduced the pressure on steyn and morkel. Philander well get bunch of wickets agsint nobodies. You need someone to take wickets and he will do it. But against strong opposition you need 2 bowler who bowl super fast. India lost to same aussie team 4-0. In That way SA did very well. That said for me score is 1-1 because of du plessis crazy inning. SA need to improve bench strength especially they need replacement for kallis alll rounder spot. Then can be number 1 in next 2 years. Steyn did his job as everyone expected him to come with full steam , guns blazing. He did in this test.

  • Dhanvanth on December 3, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    As i have been repeatedly saying, south Africa is the only team that has been ever consistent everytime..probly they are not lucky enough to dominate cricket as Australia and west Indies previously did!

  • Shan156 on December 3, 2012, 17:28 GMT

    How many series has the self-proclaiming "best team ever", SA, won in the sub-continent? Why does Saffa Bradman Amla average only 50? Why did the Saffers hide the Saffa McGrath Philander for the second test citing injury? And, why oh why, did they drop the Saffa Warne, Tahir for the third test? Isn't Steyn supposed to better than Marshall? Then, why was he virtually nowhere among the wickets in the first two tests? The arrogant Saffers have a long way to go before they could even be mentioned in the same breath as the great Windies/Aussie teams. I hope cricinfo publishes this.

  • AltafPatel on December 3, 2012, 19:34 GMT

    SA would dominate the cricket for years to come. They have average age of current experience players around 29-30 while there are others making place in the team that ensures SA will dominate the world for atleast 5 years to come.