South Africa in England 2012 August 12, 2012

South Africa sense 'something special'


There is a thrill that comes with being on the edge. It is a mixture of exhilaration in knowing that something potentially amazing awaits and fear of the possibility of falling off.

South Africa have inched closer and closer to that edge in their quest to become the No.1 ranked Test team in the world and now they find themselves right on it. In less than a week, something they have worked toward for years could finally come together. And they don't even have to win a match for that happen.

All South Africa need to do is the thing they have become almost flawless at doing for the last six years: not lose. In six years, since Sri Lanka 2006, South Africa have not been defeated in a series away from home. Whatever the result of the Lord's Test, that record will remain intact. But if the result is either a draw or a South African win, the record will sprout some bells and whistles and it's those sounds that the players are starting to hear.

"I'm pretty excited about Lord's," Dale Steyn, South Africa's premier fast-bowler, said. "Gary Kirsten mentioned the other day that we are on the brink of something special. In a few days' time we could be the number one Test team in the world. He said we should enjoy this time because this is what we've worked for."

Since Kirsten took over last June, this is the most excited he has allowed the team to be. One of his first acts was to promote a mood of stability. Wins and losses were treated with fairly similar feelings, there was no over-celebration for the former and no deep disappointment of the latter. All of them were part of a "process," a word Kirsten has used to often it has become nauseating to listen to.

The actual details of the process have not been revealed to those outside the dressing room except to say that it does not end in England, irrespective of whether the No.1 status has been achieved or not. It seems obvious that some part of the process will be completed next week at Lord's and the sense of anticipation has become too big to simply file away and Kirsten is allowing a little more than expression.

Not too much, because when Steyn was asked whether there was a feeling that something special was around the corner, he immediately reigned in his thoughts. "It's weird. We're just in a really nice groove and in such a good environment that we haven't had too much pressure. Everybody seems so up for it.

"Guys know what their job is. There's a lot of trust. If we go on and win then in a month, two months after this, maybe in a year, we might sit back and say maybe we should have had different feelings. But we're 1-0 up with one game to go and I'm not going to change the way we do things."

Consistency has been a major advantage to South Africa in this Test series, highlighted perhaps by the chaos in the opposing dressing room.

England have had their first-choice No.6 batsman, Ravi Bopara, pull out because of personal reasons and had to replace him with a debutant. They have also the person many consider their best player, Kevin Pietersen, embroiled in a text message controversy and were forced to drop him and bring in someone who has not fared well in his previous international encounters, Jonny Bairstow. They changed their attack, leaving out a spinner for the first time since 2003 and it did not work and their bowling attack cannot seem to find the venom they once had.

By contrast South Africa have seemed serene. Their big guns, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn, fired in the first Test. Then one who struggled, Alviro Petersen, was their standout player of the second Test. Their biggest worry has been Imran Tahir's no-ball issue and he may have rectified that, having not overstepped once during the two-day match against Derbyshire. While England have to iron out dressing room creases, South Africa have had endless bonding sessions, starting in Switzerland and most recently having dinner cooked by the country's first Masterchef winner.

They are, as Graeme Smith told ESPNcricinfo before the series started, at peace. Ironically, that means their killer instinct has never been sharper. Even though they have the option to play defensive cricket and hold on to their 1-0 lead, they do not want to do that. Steyn gave a guarantee that they will go for the win at Lord's, the same way they did at Headingley when Smith declared and put England in on the final day and later confirmed he did it with the intention that South Africa could for the win.

"If the weather wasn't around I reckon we would have been in a better situation," Steyn said. "A draw is not in our eyes. We've come out here to play good, attacking positive cricket. It's the way we want to play and we are definitely going for it at Lord's. It just shows Test cricket is definitely alive and that this current South African team is trying to push for it."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prashant on August 14, 2012, 19:23 GMT

    @TruthBites, it is not just one semi-final or final. SA are tagged as chokers because they have ALWAYS failed at crucial games. They have never won a major trophy. But I agree that that doesn't make them a bad team. In fact quite the contrary, they have been the most consistent team of the last decade, if you discount Australia in the first part of the decade.

  • Mathew on August 14, 2012, 19:18 GMT

    For all the talk of KP he hasn't been our top batsman for over 2 years. Danny it is true we have been outplayed thus far, but we have everything to play for. Alot of non-sense about game changing abilities with the bat. Test cricket is 5 days long and if Cook and Trott bat for 2 and a half of them we win simple. We have alot of attacking batsman lower down the order but I have to admit they haven't been firing of late. Bring on Thur, simply put we CAN win, just will we.

  • John on August 14, 2012, 15:45 GMT

    No wonder Steyn's confident, he should be champing at the bit to get at the shattered remnant of what's left of the once 'great' Pommy side, at least according to their fickle press (and fans). Has it still got a heartbeat, has anyone checked for a pulse, or has rigor-mortis actually set in? All valid questions in my humble opinion. Yep, Steyn is gonna run rampant, he'll get a 10-fer for next to nothing. The Poms may have to invoke the mercy clause in the 2nd innings, either that or send in the SAS, it's their only hope of getting out of this one alive. Pencil Amla in for a double as well. ENG's best batsmen will be sundries, top 3 in the 1st dig, and top-scorer in the 2nd dig. The poor old Barmy Army can get back to reality, after all, they're used to following a team of no-hopers, they were doing it for years before this much heralded but ultimately doomed resurgence occurred. Won't be too much of a shock to their system. The press will be like a pack of sharks in a feeding frenzy.

  • Daniel on August 14, 2012, 12:42 GMT

    All this nonsense about Kevin Pieterson has over-shadowed what should have been a great series. In my opinion South Africa will win the third test and will well deserve their number one ranking. They've out-played England. The question is will South Africa follow India and England and surrender the number one position as swiftly. If they stay relatively injury free I don't see it. They look stronger in all departments than England or India.

    I hope we can get on with the cricket and ignore the petulant whinings from Kevin. I bet South Africa are glad he qualified for England. As an Englishman I'm wishing Kevin could learn to shut up and let his cricket do the talking. He'd do better to get rid of all his advisers and agents and concentrate on playing cricket. He'll regret all this stupidity when he's older.

  • Satish on August 14, 2012, 9:14 GMT

    @MattyP1979 : They were blessed with KP.. Not any more..

  • s on August 14, 2012, 8:29 GMT

    South Africa are not chokers. One big knockout tournament cannot determine the greatness of the team where on a given day any team can win. It is what matters over a period of time and South Africa has been the most consistent team I have seen apart from Australia since I was born. Choker is a tag that is unjustifiable on a game like cricket. One semifinal or final can't make you a choker. South Africa has been great and consistent and that is a fact.

  • Dave on August 14, 2012, 6:01 GMT

    Problem for England is that without Pietersen, they can't really put the South African bowlers to the sword. An attack of Steyn, Morkel and Philander is not one that you can outlast (like with Warne and McGrath). Pietersen's (and England's) success was built on attacking the bowlers, something which I can't see the likes of Cook, Strauss, Trott and Bell doing. For England to win, the bowlers will have to perform exceptionally to keep South Africa to a low enough total to chase.

  • Mathew on August 14, 2012, 2:04 GMT

    It is true on paper SA are the better side, thats what many people think. But that makes me even more proud of this ENg team. We might not have been blessed with a Kallis/SRT/Punter to name a select few but this team is better than the sum of its parts. What will people say of we do the great escape and retain the no.1. Lets face it the rankings are correct as they stand and come next week will still be correct (no matter the result).

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2012, 21:27 GMT

    why are the ndians commenting on a topic related to SA and England. lol

  • shafaet on August 13, 2012, 18:36 GMT

    Why england supporters are thinking that they could win in headingly?? saf clearly played aggresive and declared early to have a crack at the batsmen. It would be a completely different game without rain.

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