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January 25, 2005
South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, was gracious in defeat as he reflected on the events of the final day at Centurion. Though a series-levelling victory had been an improbable prospect at the start of the day, England were made to fight for survival after being reduced to 20 for 3 in their aborted run-chase.
"Unfortunately, we lost two days to rain," said Smith. "It would have been interesting to see a full five days here. But it was nice to perform well at the end of a long series. We didn't start well at Port Elizabeth, we fought back at Cape Town, and we lost the series in one afternoon at the Wanderers. If we'd got through that, this Test would have been very interesting."
"We always felt we had a sniff today," added Smith. "We needed to start well, and AB [de Villiers] and Jacques [Kallis] provided that platform, but because of the spongy slow bounce, it was a difficult wicket to play big shots on. But the newspapers said we'd lost 3-1 - so we played superbly to set up a chance of victory."
Despite the defeat, Smith was optimistic about the future of South Africa's Test team. "We let ourselves down in an evenly fought series, but this side has great potential," he insisted. "We need to remain consistent, performance-wise, because in two years, this team will be up there and challenging the top sides. We're young and we've got some growing to do, but we believe in ourselves.
Smith added that continuity was the key if South Africa was to build on their progress in this series. "We performed well at times, but it's important to give each player the run he needs to perform well. That way, we'll reap the benefits of patience. Given experience and exposure, and in another year-and-a-half, this team will really go places."
Ray Jennings, South Africa's coach, was equally optimistic about the future. Though his first home series had ended in defeat, he applauded his team's efforts in the final match. "To come back the way we did today shows the spirit of the side," he said. "It was exciting and I enjoyed every day of the series. Our mental toughness is getting better, and this team can go far - there's something special to come."
Jennings admitted that the early part of the series had been undermined by off-field selections issues, in particular the axing of Mark Boucher, but he added that the trust levels between him and his selectors were improving by the day. "I am building relationships not only with the players, but selectors and the media," he said, "and I certainly felt more comfortable with the players I was working with towards the end of the series."
One of those players was the young opening batsman, AB de Villiers, who overcame the disappointment of making 92 in the first innings to record his maiden Test century second-time around. He was named Man of the Match as a result, and Smith said he was very proud of his efforts. "He deserved every run he got."
De Villiers did have one moment of good fortune, however, when with a century in sight, he chopped a delivery from Steve Harmison into his off stump without dislodging a bail. "It just scratched the off stump," said de Villiers, who denied that he had felt nervous as his landmark approached. "I felt a bit more excited in my stomach," he conceded, "but I didn't let it show in my body language."
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He has been following England's tour of South Africa.
Stats highlights from the first day of the second Test between Australia and India in Brisbane