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

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

  • nick 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

  • philip 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.

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

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

  • Paul 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.

  • Vikram 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.

  • Nik 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....

  • Nik 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.

  • Dummy4 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

  • Guy 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.

  • Gerald 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.

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