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Gary Kirsten has carefully developed the environment for South Africa to flourish, through consistency and togetherness
Firdose Moonda at The Oval
July 23, 2012
News : 'We can take 20 wickets' - Strauss
News : Bowlers set tone for victory - Smith
Report : Steyn and Tahir complete innings victory
Features : The most comprehensive Test victory
Matches: England v South Africa at The Oval
Series/Tournaments: South Africa tour of England
South Africa have had more statistically comprehensive victories over England. Five, in fact. On those other occasions, when they registered innings wins over England, the accompanying number of runs has been greater than 12. We all know the numbers only tell half the story, though.
Only Lord's and Edgbaston in 2008 will stand as more important triumphs over England than the one earned at The Oval. Given what is at stake - and it is not simply a ranking but an affirmation that all the work done was worth it - this win will stand as strongly as the other two. It proved what South Africa have been trying to convince people of all along: that there is power in the process.
History has already batted for South Africa in that regard. Their unbeaten away record, which stretches back to 2006, follows them with the certainty of a shadow and serves as an ever-present reminder of what they are capable of. It has not translated into something tangible enough for South Africa to show off but it has contributed to formidability and created a chain of consistency.
Regularity can be about as exciting as bran cereal but South Africa have found a way to make it watchable. The secret to their consistency is that it is applied over long periods of time and not in short bursts in illustrated by their commitment to the bigger picture. Take the fact that they have not won two consecutive Tests since 2010 - when they beat England in January and India in February - and that the last time they won two back-to-back Tests in a series was against Bangladesh in 2008 and superimpose that on their record of having last lost a series three years ago and the theory will be proved.
This time though, the wide lens had a zoom placed on it in this match as the principles that have been applied in broad brushstrokes were made to fill in finer details. Over the course of four of the five days, South Africa performed to a certain standard and were consistently better than their opposition. Three of their most dependable batsman all produced in the same match to set up the victory but perhaps more impressive than that was the 20 wickets the bowlers managed to take on a surface on which the England's attack could only snaffle two.
The difference in the two attacks, talked about as the best in the world, was startling. Where England could not find any movement, Dale Steyn was able to swing the ball, although he did have cloudy skies and moist air to do it in. Stuart Broad was insipid while Morne Morkel worked to a plan and was effective, Tim Bresnan struggled but Vernon Philander showed why he had an astoundingly successful start to his Test career and Graeme Swann barely turned the ball while Imran Tahir extracted both bounce and spin.
Those technical superiorities say nothing of the presence South Africa had in the field. From the moment Graeme Smith made his brave declaration, through the passage of play when Ian Bell and Matt Prior were causing déjà vu a la Cape Town 2009-10 until the very end, South Africa looked an aggressive and, at times, greedy side.
It was not that they did not make a single fielding blunder - AB de Villiers made four on his own - but that they continued to encourage each other through those moments. The buzz on the field was evident to the naked eye as everyone did their bit.
|"We've spent a lot of time setting up the environment for success and now we feel we can go and play cricket like that on a regular basis" South Africa head coach Gary Kirsten|
Even Jacques Rudolph, who came nowhere close to batting and whose occasional leg-spin was never called on, had a job. Almost every time one of the bowlers walked to their mark, it was Rudolph who carried their cap and sweater to the umpire. Rudolph put up a picture of him and JP Duminy afterwards celebrating the TFC (Thanks for coming) awards but both of them know they were not really deserving of them.
Inclusion has been important brick in the current South African wall and that is most evident in the way they have managed Tahir. The legspinner came into the squad amid great hype and was expected to produce Shane Warne-esque magic immediately. He did not. Seven Tests later, he still had not. Every time Smith or Gary Kirsten was asked about it they would say that he was a valuable part of their team and they were certain the occasion would come for him to star.
Even today, it did not really come because Steyn's five-wicket haul will be remembered as the spell that broke the English. Tahir's breakthrough in removing Prior may be forgotten to everyone but him. Not only did he obtain just reward for cunning plans that involved using his variations with less frequency than normal, but he opened the gate for South Africa and in doing so has probably finally arrived as an international cricketer.
With every delivery that turned out of the rough, beat the bat or bounced a little extra, he grew in confidence and confidence in him also grew. With one wicket left to get and the ball just 10 overs old, Smith brought Tahir back to take the final wicket. When he did, he brought out the celebration he has to curtail because of new ideology of not placing the spotlight on isolated moments but lighting up an entire passage of time instead. For a few seconds, Tahir forget there was anything else on but that one moment.
"It's been the best five days of his life," Kirsten said. "He is so enjoying playing Test match cricket. I think he is the most enthusiastic cricketer I have ever met and now he is bowling with a lot of confidence and had really begun to understand Test match strategies."
With that, the rest of the attack is growing around Tahir and if that plant is bedded in the same garden as the one in which the batsmen are flourishing, the flowers the bowlers produce will be worthy of a prize at the Chelsea Flower Show. Kallis put is simply. "We are enjoying each other's company and enjoying putting on big performances for each other."
The emphasis was on togetherness, something that seems to have grown since Kirsten took over. "We've spent a lot of time setting up the environment for success," Kirsten said. "We are trying to move away from the focus of individual brilliance, although when someone in your team scores 300 runs you can't really do that and bring that into what we want to achieve for your team. As Hashim said 50 times, it's all about us and I'm excited by that."
He believes that with a united team culture can come even more consistency, the kind that can be applied over a series, as well as over a single match. "We feel we can go and play cricket like that on a regular basis," Kirsten said. "We feel that we can put in good performances daily."
Maybe the three-day trip in Switzerland actually did serve to bond fifteen men who have known each other for enough years not to need a boys' scout session. Or maybe the squad have matured into the kind of unit that can be the best in the world.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge