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Firdose Moonda at The Oval
July 23, 2012
South Africa celebrated their first win at The Oval in 14 attempts without their captain Graeme Smith, who dashed back to South Africa on a 7pm flight from London to be with his wife, Morgan Deane, for the expected birth of the couple's first child on Wednesday.
Smith arrived on the final day of the first Test with his bags already packed and a special shuttle organised to get him to Heathrow. With no knowledge of when the match would end, Smith was due to travel to the airport in a motorcycle sidecar, to weave through the traffic faster. The earlier finish meant he could get there in more regular vehicular fashion, by car. He will spend the first week in South Africa with his newborn, believed to be a girl, before returning to England next Monday to lead the team at Headingley.
While Smith has gone home, the rest of the team are thinking of home. Jacques Kallis, in particular, has his mind in Cape Town, where his friend Mark Boucher is recovering from a career-ending eye injury. Kallis dedicated his century on the fourth day to Boucher, with a gesture to his eye.
"It's sad what happened to Mark and it was unfair to have his career end like that," Kallis said. "He played a big role in this side. In his special way, he is [still] playing a role in this side. The guys feel for him and wish that he was here. He's still got an impact. It was just my way of letting of him know that he is still very much in our thoughts. It was sad to see a mate go out like that but it was to show we are thinking of him and hope that things go well."
Boucher's enforced absence handed AB de Villiers the gloves for the first Test, with the specialist, Thami Tsolekile brought to the squad. De Villiers took five catches in the first innings and eight in the match in total but did make some clear errors. He dropped Ian Bell on 20, off Imran Tahir's bowling, missed a run-out chance against Bell later on in the day and let through 11 byes in the second innings.
Despite that, South Africa coach Gary Kirsten said de Villiers is likely to hold on to his position for the next match, with Tsolekile set to carry drinks again. "AB was the reserve keeper for this tour, so there would be no reason to suggest why he wouldn't keep in the next one," he said. "I thought he kept really well. It was not easy out there, especially with the spinner. He hasn't had a lot of Test match keeping so for a first outing in Test match cricket for a long time, I thought he did exceptionally well."
De Villiers was not required to bat, so his back, which is prone to spasms, was not tested in this match - but he cannot expect the same to happen in the second Test. Kirsten said South Africa considered it "very special" to have won the match having only lost two wickets but saw it as an illustration of their batting stamina.
"We've got some real class in out batting line up," he said. "We've got guys with a lot experience and guys who enjoy batting a lot. They don't give their wickets away; they take pride in spending a lot of time at the crease. It was particularly satisfying as a coach to see that."
More pleasing, perhaps, because the build-up to the series was dominated by talk of South Africa being underprepared, having last played Test cricket in March. Instead of getting in more net practice, Kirsten took his team to Switzerland for a bonding camp that was joked about in certain circles. Kirsten, said he fully expected his unorthodox methods to work, however. "The only way you can really effectively prepare for Test match cricket is by playing Test match cricket," he said. "It's very tough to get yourself into a Test match intensity mode playing first-class cricket. We tried a few different things. The guys came into this Test match mentally fresh."
Those clear heads came together to take the lead in a three-match series, which both captains said could prove decisive. Kirsten was cautious not to say the same and regarded this win as just another rung on the long ladder he wants to climb with South Africa. "We know we want to become the best cricket team in the world and we know what we need to do to achieve that," he said. "This is the next hurdle. There's a lot of work to be done and there's a lot of focus needed. We are focusing everything on preparation at the moment."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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