England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley

South Africa aim for new script

Graeme Smith believes his side is ready to end the cycle of repeats that has seen them miss out on No. 1 spot in the Test rankings

Firdose Moonda

August 1, 2012

Comments: 40 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith was in high spirits after returning to the tour, Headingley, July 31, 2012
South Africa can take England's No. 1 ranking with victory at Headingley © Getty Images

Like Friends and The Simpsons, South Africa's cricket team have been on your screens doing their thing time and time again. The only difference is that despite numerous episodes and re-runs, too many to count, the team have not come out with a fairytale ending like Rachel and Ross, or laughing like Homer and Bart.

When the sporting equivalent of a 30-minute TV episode is over, South Africa have usually found themselves in the same place they were when the opening credits rolled: somewhere close to the top but never actually on top. Frankly, it has not been a bad place to be. Always second- or third-best, although once much lower, it has allowed them to command adequate respect and put them in a position to continually challenge to be the absolute best.

That they had only been able to call themselves that for a few months three years ago, illustrates how close but how far they have always been. And here they are again. The scene setter has been broadcast, the jingle has played, louder than on previous occasions, with an innings-and-12 run win at The Oval, and the first ad break has been taken.

This time it was spent playing a two-day tour match in Worcester while the captain jetted home to welcome his new-born daughter into the world and the rest having a fancy dress party in the lead up to the second part of the show. While both those are circumstantial differences to the norm, for South Africa to have a different outcome at the end of this series to the one they are usually stuck with, something more substantial has to have changed.

In cricketing terms, South Africa cannot do much more. With an unbeaten record away from home that stretches back to 2006, a thundering victory in the first Test and the big name players living up to their reputations, only fine-tuning is necessary. Concerns such as Alviro Petersen's lack of form on the tour so far, Jacques Rudolph and JP Duminy's lack of time in the middle and assessing and adapting to conditions at Headingley have been dealt with. It is other terms that South Africa's real progress will be measured. Having not won consecutive Tests in a single series since 2008 and not won back-to-back matches in two years, maintaining momentum is one of those things.

Historically, South Africa have not been able to do it. The last two times they have played against the No. 1 side in the world, which was then India, they squandered a 1-0 lead. In 2010, they won by an innings in Nagpur only to lose in Kolkata, and in the return leg, South Africa were held 1-1 at home, again after opening with an innings victory. Overall, they have lost immediately after going ahead in three of their last four series.

Conversely, not allowing the momentum that has taken them to the brink of No. 1 again to sweep them away is another issue that must be addressed. Pressure presents itself in a different form because it is the not anxiety of win-or-lose-everything, situations that have haunted South Africa in knockout matches, but the expectancy of win-and-gain everything that has existed before and will come again. Managing that is going to be the most challenging thing that will face the squad over the next five days.

The person who has led the team throughout their seemingly endless hover near greatness and maintained the stoic attitude needed to prevent losing sight of the ultimate goal, knows that best. "Keeping emotions in check is crucial," Graeme Smith said. "The mental energy that we have in our squad is an important thing. You can feel the intensity among the group at the moment."

A fresher attitude at the key stage of the series is the only tangible thing Smith thinks makes this time different to all the others. They have kept their performance graph a fairly straight line and their gazes firmly fixed on that distant point in the future that has almost always eluded them.

"We've got most of our bases covered in terms of players but as a group of men, this is the best group of men that I have been around" Graeme Smith

"Nothing has been too up or too down. We've trained as hard and we've prepared as well as ever," Smith said. "We don't expect England to give us anything for free. We know we are going to have to earn it and we have the mindset where we can do that."

As insurance against making this match the ultimate as far as South African cricket's future is concerned, Smith already went as far as talking about the need to maintain good form rather than just achieve it for brief periods. "We understand that the job is not done and it's not done for a period of time, if we want to see ourselves at the top of the rankings consistently," he said.

This is not South Africa's last chance to become world No. 1, neither is the final Test of the series at Lord's because they go on to play a three-match series in Australia in November. But it is as clear cut a chance as they have had in recent times.

Smith knows it and so coloured his words carefully, making sure he said the immediate goal was the next five days. He also provided extensive evidence that South Africa are ready, not just to win one match and rise to the top but, once they do that, to stay there. "We are training every day to be the kind of team that can consistently go forward. We need to walk that walk out in the middle and win those games now to prove that to people. We would love to be holders of the No. 1 title and be the team that can push forward."

What can dramatically aid that cause is what Smith identified as one of the immeasurables that have made the team he is currently in charge of different to any other. "We've got most of our bases covered in terms of players but as a group of men, this is the best group of men that I have been around," he said. It's a group he will be hoping are not keen on repeats but who will be eager to break new ground from Thursday.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by shahbazsiddiqui on (August 2, 2012, 13:13 GMT)

i think pakistan and south africa are favourite because they both have WORLD CLASS BOWLING ATTACK...........STEYN,AJMAL AND SO ON.............so best of luck for sa and pak for world cup t20.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (August 2, 2012, 13:12 GMT)

@Selassie, thx mate, it's god to be back separating the kids from the gents. I've always enjoyed the envy that number 1 teams like England beating middle-ranked teams like Australia generates, I find comments pages rather like an interesting psychological experiment, intended to extract and highlight true feelings within a deluge of tantrums and jealousy.

Posted by sachin_vvsfan on (August 2, 2012, 12:36 GMT)

@din7, agree with you.@veerakannadiga dont agree with you completely when you said "Laxman contributes once in a while". Check out our away wins and you would find laxman's contribution in all matches where as sachin has been only match saver/record accumulator.

@pommyadders yes rankings are what they are but is it not fair ? SA to play only few games (max 3 tests in series) when compared to ENG's 5match series (ashes) or India's 4 match series and how many series have they played last 3 years? If they had played more matches i am sure they would have been ranked num 1 long time ago. SA is the only side that has consistently challenged sub continent teams in their own backyards last 3 years (and yes not even Aus sorry RandyOz). And yes I am not saying Eng doesn't deserve num1 ranking. They do They beat Aus and IND comprehensively but just could not meet the expectations of a num1 side just like India. SA looks the most balanced side and we don't need rankings to tell that.

Posted by Ind_Cric_Fan79 on (August 2, 2012, 12:35 GMT)

SA is the only consistent team in the recent time.. They have good batting and bowling unit. SA deserves the top place in test ranking.. by an Indian fan.... All d best SA...

Posted by revenantdevil on (August 2, 2012, 10:06 GMT)

Someday the zinx will be gone for South Africa. SA will be the top team and it will remain for a long period too.

Posted by Selassie-I on (August 2, 2012, 9:24 GMT)

Good to see the real Front-Foot-lunge back. Nothing has changed mate - RandyOz is still spurting rubbish! Head and shoulders above the rest, remind me of your recent results against England will you? In fact you just drew an ODI series with WI didn't you?(no disrespect to WI) I would say that these results point to you being head and shoulders above all teams bar SA my friend, expect a thrashing. looking forward to the days play today, these are interesting stats, I hope that they prove true, i'm at leeds on sat, sun and potentially mon so really don't want to see us getting another pounding, or even less a load of rain. SA now have the right man in the coaches job so I wouldn't put it past them.

Posted by   on (August 2, 2012, 9:06 GMT)

SA to clinch the series, too much quality in the team both with ball and bat, conditions should suit them, but teamwork and patience is vital. Go Proteas. You can then enjoy the Olympics after this one ;)

Posted by Unomaas on (August 2, 2012, 9:04 GMT)

@ veerakannadiga on (August 02 2012, 07:30 AM GMT) That was a very humble comment. Much respect for admitting it! If only other cricket fans could be so humble :(.

Posted by Seether1 on (August 2, 2012, 8:41 GMT)

@Handalf The-Bez:I am a Saffer and proud supporter of our boys. You are right, South Africa may have been able to compete with and even defeat the West Indies from 1970-1975/76. However thereafter from 1975 onwards with the emergence of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, South Africa would have well and truly been whipped. The same as Australia and England. The fact that South Africa was an apartheid state would have only further motivated the likes of King Viv. He would have been merciless. However this is all speculation...we will never know what could have been.

Posted by pommyadders on (August 2, 2012, 8:28 GMT)

@din7. A little perspective needed mate. The rankings are what they are, over a period of time they indicate which team has performed the best overall. You laud South Africa's away form.......well tell us who have they beaten in that 3 years?? (and be careful, that's your time frame not mine) Time again we hear of SA's unbeaten away record (but they constantly draw series). And what of their home record?? Why is being good away and crap at home better than vice versa??? So much nonsense posted on this board about the No 1 ranked team, the trap posters are falling into is comparing the likes of India and now Eng to the dominant No1's like Aust and West Indies. As an Eng fan I accept we are there by the smallest margin and the reality is there is not much between the top 4 sides. But we are there none the less and until SA win this series (it's not done yet) we remain so. So Mr din, SA are not the best, and wont be until they get there.

Posted by   on (August 2, 2012, 7:47 GMT)

SA have best chances of winning this test..hopefully rain doesn't soil their party

Posted by   on (August 2, 2012, 7:37 GMT)

South Africa will win and amla again create history

Posted by veerakannadiga on (August 2, 2012, 7:30 GMT)

@din7, agree with you. I for one have always maintained that, we, Indians became the #1,due to default. When all the other teams were losing, we were at least drawing games & occasionally winning which gained us the points. Only SRT & RD are/were capable of playing on Aus/SA/WI/Eng tracks ( Laxman once in a while) & only Anil Kumble was the only wicket taking bowler India ever produced (after Kapil/Srinath).At best we are an ordinary team outside our soil.AMEN.

Posted by SumanChalla on (August 2, 2012, 7:25 GMT)

SA team deserved for No 1 in tests, they had a great time in last 2 years.It's not easy for englad took 20 wickets of SA.I hope they will reach no 1 easily with Headingley Test.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (August 2, 2012, 6:30 GMT)

Randy Oz: AUSTRALIA? I think you'll find it famously was England who have been consigning Australia to the dustbin consistently over the last 5 years. Or do you not watch the game?

Posted by gondal007 on (August 2, 2012, 5:51 GMT)

Go England, keep calm and keep keeping on, just remember how good a side you are and don't let when disastrous test performance upset your discipline and belief. I foresee a big English batting performance this test.

Posted by cricketandmore on (August 2, 2012, 5:13 GMT)

Firdose, why has the paragraph on anxiety been repeated successively? Is it to reiterate a point or purely a case of excitement ahead of the big clash.. i have in general been a good fan of your writing maintaining a fine balance between on field and off field events.

Posted by din7 on (August 2, 2012, 5:05 GMT)

they win this match/series or not...but for me they are no1 test team in the world from last 2 to 3 yrs. They have performed consistently outside home, which no other team have managed in recent years. see the records of last 3 yrs SA are the best among all. Though no1 ranking has been held by us indians for no reason and now eng for no reason as well. SA is the best!

Posted by veerakannadiga on (August 2, 2012, 4:47 GMT)

No.1 ranking follows Gary Kirsten..

Posted by harshthakor on (August 2, 2012, 3:39 GMT)

I am almost certain that South Africa will vanquish England at Leeds and capture the test world championship crown.They are in raging form and their morale is sky-high.Leeds will suit their seam attack.Arguably if they will it will be their best achievement in test cricket after their return in 1991.

Posted by RandyOZ on (August 2, 2012, 3:38 GMT)

South Africa and Australia are streaks above the likes of lowly England and India. Expect a whitewash and the real #1 series to happen next summer down under.

Posted by cricketfannik on (August 2, 2012, 0:15 GMT)

@fast_gun most of the times SA has lost were when there was 2 match series against India and Australia so no point of keeping interest as there isnt any 3rd match. check your stats before writing anything. its not fantasy world mate. SA took to easy and their opponents were more eager to win than SA. Now i hope they win the series by 2-1 or 3-0 and get fully deserved rank 1 and then thrash AUS too

Posted by Hammond on (August 1, 2012, 23:48 GMT)

Go England, keep calm and keep keeping on, just remember how good a side you are and don't let when disastrous test performance upset your discipline and belief. I foresee a big English batting performance this test.

Posted by   on (August 1, 2012, 23:34 GMT)

@hhillbumper - Saying the SA team of the 70s and early 80s would've been "massacred" by the Windies is farcical. In 1970, Australia arrived in South Africa with what was then widely touted to be the best team in Test cricket. A few months later they left having been whitewashed 4-0 in a Test series in which they won only a couple sessions, nevermind a full day's play. That SA team only got better later in the 70s as Vincent van der Bijl, Garth le Roux, Clive Rice, and a young Peter Kirsten joined its ranks. These are all players who absolutely dominated domestic cricket around the world. Add them to the likes of Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, and Mike Procter (not to mention a few that I'm missing right now), and you quickly realize that SA-WI battles throughout the 70s and 80s would've been absolutely epic. It's unlikely either team would've dominated the other.

Posted by SCC08 on (August 1, 2012, 21:58 GMT)

@Riz Khan - great stat. Well done

Posted by SCC08 on (August 1, 2012, 21:56 GMT)

@hardikvyas21 - Dark period not worth joking about for South Africans. Keep it respectful as best possible.......

Posted by   on (August 1, 2012, 21:44 GMT)

@test_the_best, West Indies did have a match and could not quite hammer one team as the others from 1976-1992 and that was Pakistan, Stats from Statsguru are as follows for Pakistan people always conveniently forget Pakistan as a formidable force then (back then Australia, India and England were no walkovers either):

Grouping Span Mat Won Lost Tied Draw W/L v Australia 1976-1990 25 8 7 0 10 1.14 v England 1977-1992 25 6 5 0 14 1.20 v India 1978-1989 29 6 2 0 21 3.00 v New Zealand 1976-1990 17 8 2 0 7 4.00 v Sri Lanka 1982-1992 12 6 1 0 5 6.00 v West Indies 1977-1990 18 4 6 0 8 0.66

Posted by hardikvyas21 on (August 1, 2012, 21:32 GMT)

Hey Mr. Xolie : South Africa were unbeaten in Tests in 70s-80s till 1992. No Test team has remained unbeaten for such long.

Posted by SCC08 on (August 1, 2012, 21:23 GMT)

Suppose Peter Forrest is gonna be the next Bradman? Love the Ausi's with their big mouths....

Posted by SCC08 on (August 1, 2012, 21:20 GMT)

@tinkertinker - he's worked out ave win rate? should be the same for all..... Your poiny is invalid.

Posted by SCC08 on (August 1, 2012, 21:19 GMT)

@ hhillbumper - Graeme Pollock, Peter Pollock, Mike Proctor, Ray Jennings, Clive Rice, Peter Kirsten, Barry Richards...... Just to name a few... Pollock ,Richards rated the best batsman certain Ausi's had seen... I think our average would have increased..

Posted by tinkertinker on (August 1, 2012, 21:05 GMT)

xolile, SA have "consistently outplayed Australia"?

Since the 1960's SA have one measly test series win against the aussies and 7 test series losses., head to head with the best team they played since reentry south africa have been crushed time after time.

Posted by fast_gun on (August 1, 2012, 20:43 GMT)

South Africa are always blamed for letting a lead go, we've seen it time and time again, they win by an innings the first game only to loose the second one. My theory is that they throw the game to keep an interest and indeed ticket sales up for the rest of the series, otherwise people just wont watch. Because who wants to see whitewashes, then its just plain boring test cricket.

Posted by hhillbumper on (August 1, 2012, 20:35 GMT)

Xolile. Indeed but they would have been massacred by the Windies but owing to the apartheid issue they could not play them.They also of course have had a few issues down the years (inherent racism and match fixing. But I get your point there is a lot to be admired?

Posted by tests_the_best on (August 1, 2012, 20:34 GMT)

@Xolile, as for SA consistently outplaying the teams that you mentioned, it's true for all but Australia. If I am not mistaken, after readmission in 1992, SA has never won a home series against aus and only managed a 2-1 victory in aus on their last tour. They even got whitewashed 3-0 by aus at home. In the last 50 years, there have been only 2 teams that consistently outplayed everyone else, WI from 70s to early 90s and aus from then on till 2006.

Posted by Jester01 on (August 1, 2012, 20:26 GMT)

The team looks focused and they seem to have more self believe. England's nightmare will continue tomorrow. It won't be as easy as the first test but we should still win. Their only hope is rain. Nr.1 ranking here we come. Go Proteas!

Posted by perl57 on (August 1, 2012, 19:09 GMT)

Andy your head will explode like a candy. Keep watching how your team will capitulate and stream rolled inside 3 days. For all the frating you did against India, this should happen.

Posted by Xolile on (August 1, 2012, 19:05 GMT)

The purpose of Test cricket is not to be No1, but to win the greatest number of Test matches. In the last 50 years SA has had the highest win/loss ratio of all teams (1.94). That is a massive achievement. During half a century, SA has consistently outplayed Australia, India, England, Pakistan, the Windies, Sri Lanka and the rest. So please stop hanging the "chokers" tag around South Africa's necks. They are not chockers, they are the ultimate Test champions. Please start sining their praises and stop undermining them.

Posted by kevnssuresh on (August 1, 2012, 17:26 GMT)

Good luck Smith and SA Team, everybody knows you have potential to become No.1 and ofcourse to me you are No.1 team though rankings doesnt reflect. I am an Indian and always supporting Indian even when loosing but I know SA team is always good except during Knock out matches. I think once you win one you will be free from that zinx. Good luck, I really like to see Smith, Amala, Kallis (to me the best all rounder in teh world) and Steyn, Morkel performing well and grab No.1 spot..

Posted by   on (August 1, 2012, 17:08 GMT)

As always, Gary Kirsten deserves a hats off.

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