South Africa in England 2012 July 2, 2012

Smith sets off on No. 1 mission


There's a particular type of excitement which accompanies a departure. It may be hope for something better on the other side, curiosity of the unknown or anticipation to try something new. In the case of the South African team, the overriding feeling when they left Johannesburg on Monday was determination to complete a mission they have been building up to for months.

Victory over England in the Test series will see South Africa ranked the No.1 Test side. It's a position that has been within reach but just out of their grasp, for almost as long as the rankings have been around. Briefly, South Africa touched the top, for four months in 2009 after their first successful tour to England since readmission. Graeme Smith hopes that this time they can repeat history and make it count for longer.

"I don't think we need much more motivation to beat England," Smith said, at the team's departure press conference. "We've come close to the top of the rankings for a period of time. We're hoping this will be the year that we can take ourselves to the next level."

Some will argue that no team deserves it more than South Africa. They have proved themselves in all conditions, having not lost away from home since 2006 in Sri Lanka. At home, they overturned a three summer drought by beating Sri Lanka in January. They have the world's top bowler, Dale Steyn, in their attack and even though they do not own the top-ranked batsman and allrounder (Jacques Kallis recently lost that spot to Shakib Al Hasan), they've regularly had players in the top 10.

South Africa have been in this position before. They have left for World Cups with massive public pressure and a favourites tag only to return empty handed. Despite winning important Test series in places where few have left with anything besides bruised egos, like Australia, they have not been able to top the standings for any sustained amount of time. Now, they want it to be different.

"We want to become the best cricket team in the world," Gary Kirsten said, but quickly qualified that he kept that as nothing more than an end goal and was something that occupied his day-to-day planning. "What we need to do every day leading up to those performances is what's important. We make sure we prepare as best we can to get our best chance of success."

To get ready for this tour, the squad will spend five days in Switzerland with adventurer Mike Horn. Instead of extra net sessions for players who have not been involved in the longest format of the game since March, Kirsten has decided to concentrate on human dynamics. The camp will include activities cricketers are unfamiliar with, such as cycling in the mountains, in the hope it will promote a culture of community.

"We want to make sure that we are connected as a unit," Kirsten explained. "On this tour, it may well boil down to crucial moments in the Test series. And we want to make sure we are prepared for that."

The mental focus has always been an area of concern for South Africa and under Kirsten the focus on togetherness seems to be what will be used to help overcome the usual lapses. Smith even alluded to it when he discussed the less talked about aspect of the series, the batting. "It's more exciting to talk about guys who can bowl at 150 kph, than about stodgy opening batters," he said. "But it is a crucial part; putting runs on the board. It's all about partnerships. The top six need to be really tight and perform well for each other."

Smith expects that England's strength as a unit will also shine through and is preparing for a different sort of psychological pressure to what South Africa are used to. "They've proven over time that they are a methodical, well-drilled team," Smith said. "They'll be battle hardened. They play the game hard and no-one wants to give an inch."

Pressure will be applied from all sides, with Smith saying he can already feel the "buzz" from the South African public, who have waited many years to see their cricket side dominate. "You can feel how much that means to the fans," he said. "We go there with the priority to perform well."

South Africa's sports minister, Fikile Mbalula, also expected big things from the side. He was there to bid them farewell and issue some instructions. "A visit to England is the absolute highlight of any cricketer's career. As South Africans, we expect them to maintain their proud record there," Mbalula said. "The Zimbabwe shame in the tri-series should be forgotten as we place ourselves to break hearts in the Queen's land."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on July 5, 2012, 20:19 GMT

    @AKS286 on (July 05 2012, 18:23 PM GMT) Could not care less about Florida as a pitch. UAE is as valid as anywhere - the reason you're saying it does not count is because it goes against your argument. Our bowlers took 50 wickets in 3 tests there (16.66 wkts per test) , SA 26 in 2 (13 wkts per test) and yes I know that there will be examples of where SA outbowled Eng. I'm not saying they are not a formiddable attack - just that the way you talk about them is that they are up there with the WI attack and far superior to Eng and Aus which they are not.

  • Martin on July 5, 2012, 18:56 GMT

    @AKS286 - In Test matches the only ones who could beat England away were Pakistan. (If the truth is told our own England batsmen beat us - by being so useless against Ajmal & co...). We beat everyone else - or drew. If South Africa were so formidable - why did they have to "specially prepare" a Johannesburg pitch in January 2010 so that a result was possible? This is why - they were LOSING the series up until that Fourth (and final) Test. Don't take our word for it - ask any South Africa cricket fan; they all know it. There is going to be a "Deadly Barrage" in the forthcoming series - but not from the team you think.

  • Anupam on July 5, 2012, 18:32 GMT

    @ JG2704 Tough series, clash of titans but still SA is favourite due to deadly barrage. bairstow position is a problem for eng.except of jimmy & swann no real threat.

  • Anupam on July 5, 2012, 18:23 GMT

    @JG2704 the African Deadly Barrage destroys the solid indian batsmen in IND. the indian pitches which are heaven for spin bowling. still UAE is not a standard ground. lets watch Oz in UAE no highscore you will see and spinners bowls very well. in your views FLORIDA pitch is also standard? pak performs only in spinning pitches. last 3 years ENG is unbeatable away from home, played to which countries?

  • John on July 5, 2012, 15:41 GMT

    @AKS286 - ps so if we're not including UAE then England are unbeaten home and away for 3 years so should be miles ahead of all the other teams. UAE grounds are proper test venues. If you are going to put "any place any pitch" - if you want to put a more honest assessment of it you could put any place/any pitch except UAE pitches, Joburg vs Australia , and Cape Town vs India. It doesn't quite have the same force to it but at least it's an honest statement. The other thing you could do is just say they have formidable bowlers and leave it at that?

  • Sharky on July 5, 2012, 12:30 GMT

    Last time around South Africa has beaten England in England. England then hits back with a drawn Series in South Africa. South Africa was also unable to beat Australia in South Africa last year, and had to be satisfied with another drawn series. After seeing England and Australia battling it out in the ODI's, I wished for a Green Mamba Tri-Nation series on Green Fast Bowling tracks, between Australia, England and South Africa, fighting for number one. The upcoming Series between England and South Africa has been in the cue for way too long. I can't wait for the gripping stuff to start. I will follow ball by ball, no matter if it will be on cricinfo's live commentary at the office, or the radio in the car, or on the television at the take-away restaurant. I won't miss a ball.

  • John on July 5, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    @AKS286 on (July 05 2012, 06:52 AM GMT) Maybe you shouldn't put such huge emphasis on destroying teams everywhere and you even listed Pak as an example yourself. The stats which go against your statement are all from in the last 5 series (12 matches) Surely recent form is the best yardstick. NZ they won 1-0 (were expected to win by WW and prob would have done without weather) vs SL they lost one of the home tests but will admit it was batsmen's bad. Vs Aus - my 1st example when they could not defend a 300+ total was just 7 tests ago. At home vs India (again pre Phillander) they had mixed results. Then in UAE (admittedly pre Phillander) they took just 13 wkts per test. Yes , on their day they are formiddable. I'm just disproving your theory that they are this unstoppable threshing machine and head and shoulders above Eng and Aus. And there are not hundreds of test matches SA have played with this line up. Prob arround 10-15 (if that)

  • Anupam on July 5, 2012, 6:52 GMT

    @JG2704 buddy from the hundreds of matches you stick up with the stats of 2-3 matches. and the UAE is not a standard ground & place for cricket, swann is a world class bowler no doubt. but some peoples tried to show swann down while they said lyon is better than swann but its a joke for me. never make exception as an example.

  • Heath on July 5, 2012, 4:09 GMT

    One problem SA have is consistency. Most matches they are great but in a series they can play one ordinary one. It will be interesting to see how Philander goes, but they do lack a spinner.

  • P-C on July 4, 2012, 21:23 GMT

    19 July will be the start of exposing the English for the average side they are...tik tok tik tok

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