England v SA, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's August 15, 2012

SA reaping rewards from readmission

Graeme Smith grew up as South Africa gradually got to grips with readmission. All the signs are they have now got things right at the top level
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When South Africa were reintroduced into international cricket in 1991, Graeme Smith was 10 years old. He was too young to understand the changes that were taking place in the society around him and, as part of the privileged few, he would not be able to see the effect of those changes until years later. Years such as 2003 when he took over as captain and 2012 when South Africa are about to benefit from those changes.

"We've been blessed that someone has harnessed the talent and brought it all together," Smith said at Lord's, when talking about the strength of the current South African side. "We are reaping the rewards now of a lot of hard work in the early days. There would have been a lot different decisions to get to this point where we are now."

South African cricket, in its most whole form, has only just turned 21. Before that, the majority of the country was excluded from playing the game at the top level so the true measure of the country's sporting strength could not be properly attained. For every Graeme Pollock, Mike Proctor and Garth le Roux, no-one knows how many other talented batsmen, allrounders and bowlers either played in competitions like the Hawa Bowl, from which they could progress no further, or gave up.

As much as South Africa will never know what they lost in terms of talent, they will also not know how good they could have been as a team. The 20 years of isolation meant that the talents of a generation were lost. Had South Africa competed then, they may have been a match for the West Indies and England or gone through the teething problems Australia did in the 1980s, as something to build on for the future.

They would also have been able to keep up with international cricketing trends, which could have made them even stronger. Jimmy Cook remembered that he often learned new things on the county circuit which he then took back to South Africa and implemented at Transvaal. Having more exposure to the world game is something he believed would have made South Africa a better side on readmission.

When unity was reached and South Africa allowed to play again, they had to start from a different place to any of their competitors. Not only were they somewhat out of touch with the times but they also had to concentrate on inclusion for all South Africans. At first, there was almost no emphasis on reintegration, then there was an official quota system and now, sufficient work has been done to give players of colour a real chance.

"The stability that was created around the team a few years ago has played a part in where we are today. There has been some good cricketing decisions and appointments."
Graeme Smith on how South Africa have got things right behind the scenes

To say that enough has been done, would be too generous. There are still large parts of the Eastern Cape, black African cricket's stronghold, the Cape Flats, where players like Vernon Philander are bred and areas in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Johannesburg where there are sizeable Indian communities, that are without facilities and untapped.

Those problems affect levels of cricket lower down, though the top has developed layer upon layer of strength and South Africa has done more than just catch up with the rest of the cricketing world: it has out-run almost all of them. It is backed by stable team management and a prospering national board, even as it stumbles through a two-year long bonus scandal, its flagship product, the national team, have been unaffected. It could be even be argued that the opposite is true.

In two decades, they have done what other teams may have needed many more years to achieve. They have gone from beginnings that were shattered to a building phase that seemed to stagnate, especially in the mid-90s and early 2000s, to the brink of world No.1.

Smith believes that because they did not skip any of the steps on the ladder to the top, they will be in a position to capitalise now. "The important thing in South African cricket was always going to be consistency. With everything that was happening in the initial stages - growth, putting systems in place, academies, convenors of selectors, different cricket boards - there was a process of growth that needed to take place. You needed to go through that in South African sport to get where we are today."

Stable growth is what saw South Africa build up a record of not losing a Test series away from home in six years. But it needed a jolt to push them up a level and that came with the appointment of the new coaching staff in June last year. Gary Kirsten, Allan Donald, Russell Domingo and their many assistants have injected the one missing element into the squad - creativity. Under them South Africa have gone from solid to spectacular and seem ready to add successful to that list.

"The stability that was created around the team a few years ago has played a part in where we are today. There has been some good cricketing decisions and appointments. To have the type of management team we have around us has probably been the best appointment that we could have hoped for," Smith said.

He did not acknowledge his own contribution but it is one that cannot be ignored. Smith has played a massive role in blending consistency and innovation, something only a leader who is secure and sufficiently experienced can do. When he takes the field at Lord's, he will break Allan Border's record for most Tests as captain, an achievement he holds dear.

"It's important for me to say that I am extremely proud to have been able to last as long in the job as I have," he said. "I definitely don't see myself in the echelons of an Allan Border or Clive Lloyd or Steve Waugh or Mike Atherton or whoever. I've always tried to be the best I can be and I'm blessed to be given the opportunity from a 22-year old to have grown into the type of man and captain that I am today and hopefully we can achieve some special things."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • BillyCC on August 16, 2012, 23:48 GMT

    @Xolile, you're mentioning minor anomalies in the whole scheme of things, hence my sarcastic comment. 1999 was when Australia lost an away series against Sri Lanka and drew an away series against the West Indies. 2000 and 2001 was when when Australia were going through their first batch of 16 consecutive wins culminating in a lost away series against India. And 2009 was technically a drawn home and away series of 3 wins apiece between Australia and South Africa. So whilst your logic is correct that it can be compared to regaining No.1 four times, it's also a flawed rankings system. And yes, I agree, the Windies would have been challenged by your Isolation XI.

  • Peterincanada on August 16, 2012, 20:19 GMT

    @Dinith Walgama - He became captain right after the Aussies beat them 5-1 home and away. The immediate future did not look too bright so there wasn't a long line of veteran cricketers wanting the job.

  • on August 16, 2012, 13:16 GMT

    I always wondered how a 22 year old Smith came to be the captain of South Africa. South Africa lacked mature enough to captain at that time?

  • MrPud on August 16, 2012, 11:29 GMT

    Congratulations to Smith on breaking Border's record, one I thought would stand forever. He has matured from a brash upstart into a quality leader and ambassador for his country and the game. His batting may not always be aesthetically pleasing but it is certainly effective. Well done from an Aussie.

  • on August 16, 2012, 11:17 GMT

    @lempie: I don't. Here's why. As soon as Boucher got injured it was clear that AB would play as wicketkeeper in all three Tests. For that reason, I would have sent a promising youngster along to get a taste of top Test cricket. That is just my opinion, though, and I don't fault the selectors for selecting him. He is the icumbent SA A keeper and has bucketloads of first class experience. If AB couldn't keep in this series (which is the biggest SA has played in recent years) would the selectors want a greenhorn or somebody with FC experience and exposure to the SA setup coming in for a crunch match? His batting stats in the last two seasons have been solid, too.

  • klempie on August 16, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    @Bruce - Do you think Tsolekile should be the reserve keeper on this tour?

  • ajayrcs on August 16, 2012, 9:46 GMT

    This is England's best team for some time or should i say after 2005 ashes.

  • on August 16, 2012, 9:16 GMT

    @klempie - Like I said, selection is a personal point. I don't think that Peterson or Zondeki "cut the mustard" (although Peterson had a decent World Cup last time out) but neither did Mornantau Hayward, David Terbrugge, Gerhardus Liebenberg, etc. The question is, who were those guys keeping out of the team who would have been world beaters? That is where the selection issue becomes a cloudy issue of what-ifs.

  • NP_NY on August 16, 2012, 8:55 GMT

    Let us not forget Gary Kristen's contributions. Whereever he goes, that team ends up number 1. Not a coincidence. This guy is special. We sorely miss him back in India.

  • klempie on August 16, 2012, 8:35 GMT

    @Bruce....you believe that guys like Zondeki and Robin Peterson cut the mustard?

  • BillyCC on August 16, 2012, 23:48 GMT

    @Xolile, you're mentioning minor anomalies in the whole scheme of things, hence my sarcastic comment. 1999 was when Australia lost an away series against Sri Lanka and drew an away series against the West Indies. 2000 and 2001 was when when Australia were going through their first batch of 16 consecutive wins culminating in a lost away series against India. And 2009 was technically a drawn home and away series of 3 wins apiece between Australia and South Africa. So whilst your logic is correct that it can be compared to regaining No.1 four times, it's also a flawed rankings system. And yes, I agree, the Windies would have been challenged by your Isolation XI.

  • Peterincanada on August 16, 2012, 20:19 GMT

    @Dinith Walgama - He became captain right after the Aussies beat them 5-1 home and away. The immediate future did not look too bright so there wasn't a long line of veteran cricketers wanting the job.

  • on August 16, 2012, 13:16 GMT

    I always wondered how a 22 year old Smith came to be the captain of South Africa. South Africa lacked mature enough to captain at that time?

  • MrPud on August 16, 2012, 11:29 GMT

    Congratulations to Smith on breaking Border's record, one I thought would stand forever. He has matured from a brash upstart into a quality leader and ambassador for his country and the game. His batting may not always be aesthetically pleasing but it is certainly effective. Well done from an Aussie.

  • on August 16, 2012, 11:17 GMT

    @lempie: I don't. Here's why. As soon as Boucher got injured it was clear that AB would play as wicketkeeper in all three Tests. For that reason, I would have sent a promising youngster along to get a taste of top Test cricket. That is just my opinion, though, and I don't fault the selectors for selecting him. He is the icumbent SA A keeper and has bucketloads of first class experience. If AB couldn't keep in this series (which is the biggest SA has played in recent years) would the selectors want a greenhorn or somebody with FC experience and exposure to the SA setup coming in for a crunch match? His batting stats in the last two seasons have been solid, too.

  • klempie on August 16, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    @Bruce - Do you think Tsolekile should be the reserve keeper on this tour?

  • ajayrcs on August 16, 2012, 9:46 GMT

    This is England's best team for some time or should i say after 2005 ashes.

  • on August 16, 2012, 9:16 GMT

    @klempie - Like I said, selection is a personal point. I don't think that Peterson or Zondeki "cut the mustard" (although Peterson had a decent World Cup last time out) but neither did Mornantau Hayward, David Terbrugge, Gerhardus Liebenberg, etc. The question is, who were those guys keeping out of the team who would have been world beaters? That is where the selection issue becomes a cloudy issue of what-ifs.

  • NP_NY on August 16, 2012, 8:55 GMT

    Let us not forget Gary Kristen's contributions. Whereever he goes, that team ends up number 1. Not a coincidence. This guy is special. We sorely miss him back in India.

  • klempie on August 16, 2012, 8:35 GMT

    @Bruce....you believe that guys like Zondeki and Robin Peterson cut the mustard?

  • on August 16, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    I have to agree with Klempie - Not enough said about BIFF...... but most articles from Moonda is not Smith Friendly or unless Moonda is always looking for headlines ... Oh and Its the HOWA bowl not HAWA named after Hassan Howa...FYI

  • klempie on August 16, 2012, 8:31 GMT

    @Bruce Robinson. "It is about Graeme Smith overtaking Allan Border as the man to captain his side the most in test cricket." No it isn't. There's only one sentence referencing the record. Ms Moonda has fallen into the all too ubiquitous apartheid/post-1994 inequality journalist trap. As a South African, all I can do is YAWN. Telford Vice is the worst of the lot.

  • on August 16, 2012, 8:27 GMT

    Sprinter3 - What are you on about.

    Win or lose SA have come on a long way since readmisison. If one considers we were in the wilderness it is an achievement of note.

    As for the No 1 Mace to be honest I could not give a flying ^&^$. I want us to beat England in a series. Thats it.

    The Number 1 position is an accolade yes but it does not mean everything.

  • on August 16, 2012, 8:14 GMT

    @Willie Kruger: I am curious as to your assertion that "forced integration" prevented the team from achieving its potential earlier. Are you speaking specifically of selection being dictated (I can think only of the Rudolph-Ontong incident in which that happened) or generally the politics of SA cricket since readmission? Of course, selection is a personal matter but I can't think of too many players who could have felt hard done by by the quota system of the 90s.

  • on August 16, 2012, 7:25 GMT

    Most of the players in the then Springbok team came from the English speaking whites. They where the minority white group in SA. That make the players in the SA team from 19'70 and the 60's a very special group. Eddie Barlow and Graeme Pollock got the rest of us going in 1963 during the Australian tour. Afrikaans schools started to play cricket and the rest is history. What has delayed the team to reach its full potential is the forced integration in the early days. It seems that more and more players of quality are coming through and that is great.

  • klempie on August 16, 2012, 7:21 GMT

    This article is long on South African cricket political history and short on the rise and rise of Graeme "Biff" Smith. Disappointing.

  • on August 16, 2012, 7:10 GMT

    Dear Sprinter 3: Did you read the article? It is about Graeme Smith overtaking Allan Border as the man to captain his side the most in test cricket. It also refers to the way in which South African cricket has gone from strength to strength since readmission just 21 years ago. The number one status is only mentioned as a means of pointing out where SA stands on the world stage right now. Win, lose or draw in this Test, this article remains valid. And, although you can't be blamed for not knowing this, it is MS. Moonda.

  • BellCurve on August 16, 2012, 6:59 GMT

    @ BillyCC - the ICC recalculated the current rankings system retrospectively: since readmission SA was No1 in 1999 (5 months); 2000 (1 month); 2001 (again 1 month) and 2009 (4 months). In total, that is almost a year. Another way of looking at it is saying that they have managed to get to No1 on 4 seperate occations. It's a bit like winning the World Cup 4 times. So it's hardly fair to call them ch**ers.

  • BellCurve on August 16, 2012, 6:53 GMT

    The following "Isolation XI" would have seriously challenged the dominant West Indian team of that era: 1 Barry Richards 2 Eddie Barlow 3 Peter Kirsten 4 Graeme Pollock 5 Alan Lamb 6 Clive Rice 7 Mike Proctor 8 Ray Jennings 9 Alan Kourie 10 Garth Le Roux 11 Vince van der Bijl

  • sharidas on August 16, 2012, 5:29 GMT

    More than anything, I admire the selectors in SA who chose Smith for the role of captain at a very young age and at a very difficult transition period.

  • on August 16, 2012, 4:31 GMT

    @Chris Sun. How quickly we forget results that don't suit us. The last time that South Africa went Down Under, they BEAT Australia in AUSTRALIA in 2008 - '09. That was when people like Hayden, Katich, et al were still playing.

  • Sprinter3 on August 16, 2012, 3:44 GMT

    Dear Mr. Moonda - Its a nice article, but more appropriate had you written in after South Africa become the NO 1 Team. I can understand your impatience, but please dont forget that cricket is cricket and anything can happen at Lords, specially given the history of SA in pressure matches.

    Arent we tired of this ???? i think fans would love to see cricket takes over its due place rather than media hype is bloated more than what it deserves....and the fans get frustrated when all that hype becomes only a talk....Aus vs Ind...Eng vs Ind.....can give a list which actual cricket didnt live up to the hype created by media........

  • BokkeForever on August 16, 2012, 2:27 GMT

    Huge congratulations to Biff. He took over at a crucial time in SA cricket and has done a superb job in leading this team for the last 10 years. He deserves a lot of respect for what surely has been the toughest job in cricket - especially given SA's politics. Well done Biff - keep up the good work,

  • Nadeem1976 on August 16, 2012, 1:41 GMT

    Keep it up Greame, you are really fortunate to have that long captaincy. You will be the first captain to play 100 tests as captain. Awesome man.

  • cricketfannik on August 16, 2012, 0:55 GMT

    Surely SA deserve to be no.1 since their readmission in 1992 they have played consistently. They would have got atleast 2 wcups for sure if rules and luck would not have broken their heart. Since Keppler Wessles in 1992 Wcup SA id doing great. Even when Hansie took over SA win ratio was always good and they gave aus good run for their money.Players like Wessels, Hansie, Jonty, Gary and peter kirsten, Donald, Pollock, Cullien, Macmillan, Ntini,Kallis, Smith, Devillers, Styne, Morkel brothers, Klusner, boucher, Symcox, all are and were star players. Most importantely consistent as well. They should have been no. 1 long time ago but didnt play much test matches now when they wil be on top they will stay der coz it doesnt look like Eng, Aus , Pak or Ind can push them. Ind still developing their test team like Aus, ENG until they learn to be good in subcontietent would be difficult as SA has won everywhere in past 6 years, not losing a single series away from home what else u can ask for.

  • HatsforBats on August 15, 2012, 23:46 GMT

    @ Chris Sun, SA beat Aus in Aus back in 08/09. They were ranked no.2 at the time, Aus were no.1, Eng were no.5. It was a much harder fought series compared to when Eng (no.2) beat Aus (no.4) in Aus.

  • on August 15, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    You have forgotten to mention Eddie Barlow, Clive Rice and Barry Richards along with Graeme Pollock and Mike Proctor. Anyone remember Barry Richards scoring a triple century in one single day against Western Australia that had lethal bowlers like Lillie and Mckenzie? All super players who had been more of a victims of their country's apartheid system. Garth Roux was a good player to watch, especially in the Packer Circus, but was not the same class as the other four.

  • BillyCC on August 15, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    @Laurie Johnson, yes, for about a couple of minutes.

  • SanchSivash on August 15, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    SA already won AUS in AUS. Its Duminy's debut Series & G.Smith batted with broken arm...

  • SanchSivash on August 15, 2012, 22:57 GMT

    They have already won AUS in AUS 2-1. Its Duminy's Debut Series & G.Smith batted with the broken arm...

  • on August 15, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    Win against AUS in AUS then SA will justify that they are no.1!

  • kalyanbk on August 15, 2012, 20:46 GMT

    "They may have been a match for the West Indies and England". Mentioning the West Indies invincibles and England in the same sentence is not accurate.

  • on August 15, 2012, 20:33 GMT

    SA is feeding the world game.. we are the reason ENG made it to number 1.. Strauss, Trott, Prior and KP -- all SA-born...

  • MattyP1979 on August 15, 2012, 20:29 GMT

    SA are and have been a very good side for many years. I still feel when Kallis finally calls it a day the team will undoubtably lose something. They are not no.1 yet, if they reach this mark they deserve it, but if they fail to do this then do Eng finally deserve to be top? Not if you ask the SA supporters with strange Aussie or Ind dialects!

  • on August 15, 2012, 19:51 GMT

    How soon they forget. To read this article, anybody could be forgiven for thinking that SA are on the brink of reaching number 1 Test team for the first time since readmission. Been there, done that. They overtook Australia in August 2009 to become the top team on the ICC rankings.

  • LeftBrain on August 15, 2012, 19:38 GMT

    SA has the maturity, talent and system that can assure they remain at the top of the ladder, or close second, for a long period of time. They have shown results in every condition, against every team Unlike England or India who became no. 1 on the back of heavy home serieses and playing against weaker side, SA has more in common with Australia who proved their mantle across all grounds against all teams. It will be stupid to compare them with Aus or WIndies at this point of time, but they have right ingrediants to follow the same path.

    And mentioning an English captain who achiebved ZERO in his career is something Smith did only to please English media, (Which by the way, is the most negative media and can only be compared with Indian media.)

  • Partyman on August 15, 2012, 19:03 GMT

    It is interesting he mentions Mike Atherton. An under appreciated captain, but good on Smith to recognise Athers as a benchmark leader.

  • Nduru on August 15, 2012, 18:48 GMT

    A huge, Huge failing of South African cricket: there has never been a decent black African national team player aside from Makhaya Ntini and Lowobo Tsotsobe. Even worse, there are only a handful in the first class setup despite droves of white players leaving for Zew Zealand, England, Ireland, Netherlands etc.

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  • Nduru on August 15, 2012, 18:48 GMT

    A huge, Huge failing of South African cricket: there has never been a decent black African national team player aside from Makhaya Ntini and Lowobo Tsotsobe. Even worse, there are only a handful in the first class setup despite droves of white players leaving for Zew Zealand, England, Ireland, Netherlands etc.

  • Partyman on August 15, 2012, 19:03 GMT

    It is interesting he mentions Mike Atherton. An under appreciated captain, but good on Smith to recognise Athers as a benchmark leader.

  • LeftBrain on August 15, 2012, 19:38 GMT

    SA has the maturity, talent and system that can assure they remain at the top of the ladder, or close second, for a long period of time. They have shown results in every condition, against every team Unlike England or India who became no. 1 on the back of heavy home serieses and playing against weaker side, SA has more in common with Australia who proved their mantle across all grounds against all teams. It will be stupid to compare them with Aus or WIndies at this point of time, but they have right ingrediants to follow the same path.

    And mentioning an English captain who achiebved ZERO in his career is something Smith did only to please English media, (Which by the way, is the most negative media and can only be compared with Indian media.)

  • on August 15, 2012, 19:51 GMT

    How soon they forget. To read this article, anybody could be forgiven for thinking that SA are on the brink of reaching number 1 Test team for the first time since readmission. Been there, done that. They overtook Australia in August 2009 to become the top team on the ICC rankings.

  • MattyP1979 on August 15, 2012, 20:29 GMT

    SA are and have been a very good side for many years. I still feel when Kallis finally calls it a day the team will undoubtably lose something. They are not no.1 yet, if they reach this mark they deserve it, but if they fail to do this then do Eng finally deserve to be top? Not if you ask the SA supporters with strange Aussie or Ind dialects!

  • on August 15, 2012, 20:33 GMT

    SA is feeding the world game.. we are the reason ENG made it to number 1.. Strauss, Trott, Prior and KP -- all SA-born...

  • kalyanbk on August 15, 2012, 20:46 GMT

    "They may have been a match for the West Indies and England". Mentioning the West Indies invincibles and England in the same sentence is not accurate.

  • on August 15, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    Win against AUS in AUS then SA will justify that they are no.1!

  • SanchSivash on August 15, 2012, 22:57 GMT

    They have already won AUS in AUS 2-1. Its Duminy's Debut Series & G.Smith batted with the broken arm...

  • SanchSivash on August 15, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    SA already won AUS in AUS. Its Duminy's debut Series & G.Smith batted with broken arm...