August 29, 2012

South Africa's bookends rank them up with the best

They aren't just a decent side who managed to make it to No. 1
65

Suddenly Test cricket doesn't look so doomed. Anyone who was lucky enough to be at Lord's last week as it hosted one of the great Test matches of modern times will understand the simple formula for reviving five-day cricket.

First, play on a wicket that rewards both good bowling and good batting and takes some spin later in the game. Secondly, the match should have something tangible riding on the result - in this case, both the destiny of the series and bragging rights as the world's best team. Third, you need two very good sets of players.

Simple stuff, but it certainly works. The whole match was played at high-pitched intensity. Wickets and runs had to be earned: there were few easy four-balls, no freebie wickets, and no spells in which the match meandered aimlessly. Over the course of five days, the collective willpower of two teams vied for dominance. It's hard to think of a better definition of Test cricket at its best.

The glorious last day, on which England threw their last reserves of conviction and skill at a task always likely to prove just beyond them, was a fitting ending to an exemplary match and a pulsating series. It ended, of course, with the ICC mace passing from Andrew Strauss to Graeme Smith.

There can be no doubt that South Africa deserved to beat England. They held the edge in every department, particularly the most important one: the bowling.

And yet some critics have questioned whether any country deserves to be judged as truly the outstanding team in contemporary Test cricket. After all, the mantle "world's best team" has moved around freely, even promiscuously, in recent years. India's spell at the top was ended by England in 2011, as England's has been by South Africa now. How different from two great, static dynasties that once ruled cricket - the West Indians from 1976-1995, and the Australians from 1995-2009.

It is wrong, however, to leap to the conclusion that South Africa are merely a decent team that reached the summit by default. They deserve to be judged as a very, very good team that may yet go on to be even better than that. True, they lack an outstanding spinner. But very few teams are lucky enough to have 15 years of Shane Warne.

But leave to one side the absence of a match-winning legspinner or mystery offspinner. The rest of the South African line-up has very few weaknesses. England are a fine side, too. But if you write the two XIs next to each other on a piece of paper, how many England players would you certainly pick over their opposite number in the South African team?

Before the series started, you would have picked Alastair Cook over Alviro Petersen as one of the openers. Kevin Pietersen would definitely have dislodged Jacques Rudolph as a specialist middle-order batsman. Graeme Swann would certainly get the nod over Imran Tahir. A case could certainly be made for picking Matt Prior's all-round game as wicketkeeper-batsman - leaving out JP Duminy at No. 7, but leaving in AB de Villiers as a pure batsman (with an average of 48).

So what, ask the critics? How good are the England team of 2012? OK, let's line up this South African team against the England team of 2005 that beat the otherwise all-conquering Australians. Again, only a few England players would be automatic selections. Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff and Pietersen would play. Maybe Simon Jones for his reverse swing. Statistically, Ashley Giles had a better all-round record than Tahir. But the 2012 South Africans would probably still contribute the majority of the team, even when they compared to the winning team from arguably the best series of the modern era.

Having spent a good portion of my early career getting lbw to inswingers from left-arm seamers, I was able to imagine what a left-hand batsman fears when he faces up to a right-arm bowler: lots of balls swinging in from over the wicket, with the others just going straight on, perhaps simply by accident

So let's get the South African team in perspective and judge them fairly. Having a superlative allrounder (Jacques Kallis) provides them with the luxury of balancing the side. Possessing a second allrounder (de Villiers) allows them to bat exceptionally deep. Above all, they have the essential "bookends" that distinguish the best sides: a run-laden top order and a battery of strike bowlers. With the single exception of lacking a match-winning spinner, this South African side is up there with the best.

****

I cannot resist returning to a dressing-room debate, now eight years old, that I remember vividly from my playing days at Kent. It took place at Bristol, where we were playing Gloucestershire. The debate was about how to bowl at left-handers. One group of Kent senior players - the majority, in fact - suggested that our seamers "push it across them". The tactic was to angle the ball across left-handers in the hope of eliciting an edge to the slips. The other group of players - a minority that included me - argued that most left-handers found it much harder when the ball swung back in towards them - assuming, of course, that the bowlers were capable of doing it (which some of our bowlers definitely could). Eventually, I was argued down and "push it across lefties" hardened into received wisdom.

My logic was simple and I feel more confident than ever having just watched England v South Africa. Though I've never batted left-handed, I've certainly batted right-handed plenty of times against left-arm seamers. And I know what really worried me about left-armers: the ability to swing the ball back in. This is doubly dangerous. First, the ball that does swing in opens up the possibility of bowled and lbw. Second, the ball that doesn't swing in - just a plain, garden-variety, dead straight ball that doesn't swing an inch - is magically converted into something that could easily catch the outside edge.

Having spent a good portion of my early career getting lbw to inswingers from left-arm seamers, I was able to imagine all too easily what a left-hand batsman really fears when he faces up to a right-arm bowler. The exact mirror image of what I dreaded as a right-hander: lots of balls swinging in from over the wicket, with the others just going straight on, perhaps simply by accident.

Don't believe me? Just ask Cook or Vernon Philander. Cook's dismissal against Philander in the second innings at Lord's was the perfect ball to a left-hander. It set off wide of off stump, drawing Cook's front leg across, before swinging in sharply and thudding into his knee-roll. Philander bowled superbly to left-handers all series because he has the priceless ability to swing the ball in to them, just as he swings the ball away from right-handers. It is exactly the same ball, but simply marginally differently directed.

Accepting his Man-of-the-Match award, Philander was asked by Mike Atherton if he enjoyed bowling at left-handers. Philander thought for a moment before uttering his considered judgment. "Oh yeah!" he said, as though there was nothing more to add and a cold beer was beckoning him.

Spot on, Vern. And surely the definitive answer to that old dressing-room argument. Well bowled.

Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman Ed Smith's new book, Luck - What It Means and Why It Matters, is out now. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on August 31, 2012, 8:59 GMT

    @ BillyCC, The very reason that even by playing minnows a team can't sustain not loosing is itself a credit to the "DD" club. We can go on about beating minnows or loosing marginally or loosing because the players had injuries and so on, however the facts can't be changed. The only teams that are in the "DD" club are "THE INVINCIBLES" and "WI' of 80's". They are great teams and perhaps we can add the Aus of 50's and 60's that feature Bob Simpson, Richie Benaud and Bill O'Reilly as another great team. All other teams are in another league. They may last 3, 4, 5 or even 6 years, but not beyond that.

  • BillyCC on August 31, 2012, 7:35 GMT

    @Madura Perera, why does dominance have to mean "unbeatable"? A team could play a couple of Test matches every year for the next ten years against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, remain undefeated and under your definition, experience a decade of dominance. There are so many other factors involved. So much so, that at the end of it all, there are really only three sides in the history of cricket that are thrown into the debate of who was the most dominant team: the Windies, and Australia in the 90s and 00s and to a lesser extent the Invincibles.

  • on August 31, 2012, 5:32 GMT

    @ BillyCC. The Decade of Dominance (remain unbeatable) is a hard concept to comprehend. To claim a Decade of Dominance (DD) or joint the "DD" club a team must have 10 or more years between their win and the next consequence loss. "THE INVINCIBLES" and the "WI of 80's" have done this. Are you suggesting the Australian team of early 2000 are better than "THE INVINCIBLES". That is a preposterous claim. Without doubt "THE INVINCIBLES" are THE GREATEST EVER CRICKET TEAM. Even the Australian side that featured Bob Simpson between 1956 and 1966 are a far better side. They had a run of 9 years and unfortunately missed the entry to "DD" club by just one year. May be we need to watch old film clips to appreciate these historical teams.

  • mikey76 on August 31, 2012, 1:59 GMT

    andrew-schulz. The same Australian side that thrashed WI in 75/76 was thumped 3-1 by a Botham/Boycott inspired England in 1977. The previous year Eng were hammered by WI so you can safely say that around 76-77 the West Indies were the pre-eminent side in world cricket up until Australia went to the caribbean in 95 and won.

  • mikey76 on August 31, 2012, 1:50 GMT

    I think out of the 4 teams that will contest no.1 in the next few years, England have more strength in depth than those around them. While we don't have an embaressment of riches in the batting dept, we still have some good young players and two that were blooded this summer (Taylor & Bairstow) both aquitted themselves pretty well. India and Australia are both finding it hard to identify new talent in the batting dept, while SA are plugging away with the likes of Rudolph and Duminy who both seem average. Aus have some good young quicks in Patterson, Cummins and Starc but no spinners of any note. India have the perennial problem of finding fast bowling talent and now spin too. SA will lose Kallis soon and therefore their whole balance and haven't solved the problem of finding a frontline attacking spinner. Eng have pace bowlers in abundance and a couple of genuine all rounders on top of a clutch of talented young spinners. The next 2 years will be interesting.

  • marlboro19 on August 31, 2012, 1:10 GMT

    It should be fun- when India took the No.1 ranking , Aus supporters were on India's back.When England took over , Aus AND Ind supporters were on England's back. Now south africa has to deal with Aus,Ind , and Eng fans. IMO, they are just going to better their record at helm by a very short margin. I can relate with Ed Smith though, few months ago Eng was going to be the best team ever, now they had been beaten by SA, it should be SA. Thank god you don't work in share market.

  • BillyCC on August 31, 2012, 0:51 GMT

    @Madura Perera, you must be kidding trying to say that the key measure is not losing a test series. Drawing a series is also significant. The great sides dominate. The good sides win a few series and draw a few. South Africa are currently a good side and they've drawn too many series in the past three years. Otherwise, they would have reached number one a year ago. India were also in that same boat. Dhoni did not lose a series as captain until England thrashed them and that spanned more than 3 years.

  • on August 30, 2012, 22:05 GMT

    @ Meety

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/series/60702.html

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/series/214350.html

    South Africa has not lost a test series since Jan 2010 that gives them close to 3 years, hope they can continue this for at least another 7 years to reach that elusive 2 digit number of 10 or more.

  • on August 30, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    It's perhaps for the umpteenth time over the past few years that a cricket analyst/pundit/commentator has had this to say about the state of Test cricket: "Suddenly Test cricket doesn't look so doomed." Seriously, don't you guys grow tired of all this! And what's with this rush to proclaim newly number one-ranked sides as one of the best ever.

  • Nerk on August 30, 2012, 11:50 GMT

    South Africa, on paper, are the best side in the world. They have one terrific opener, one who looks good, a splendid middle order and a terrifyingly quick bowling attack. Their only problem is a spinner, though I recall Harris fulfilled that job very well for a number of years and is certainly better than Tahir. However, they do have a problem with winning series. They nearly threw away the series against England in the final test, had England taken their catches it would have been a drawn series for sure. They were unable to beat Aus at home last year, and unable to beat an Indian team very similar to the one thrashed by both England and Australia on their home turf. This seems to be their problem. They need to win more series.

  • on August 31, 2012, 8:59 GMT

    @ BillyCC, The very reason that even by playing minnows a team can't sustain not loosing is itself a credit to the "DD" club. We can go on about beating minnows or loosing marginally or loosing because the players had injuries and so on, however the facts can't be changed. The only teams that are in the "DD" club are "THE INVINCIBLES" and "WI' of 80's". They are great teams and perhaps we can add the Aus of 50's and 60's that feature Bob Simpson, Richie Benaud and Bill O'Reilly as another great team. All other teams are in another league. They may last 3, 4, 5 or even 6 years, but not beyond that.

  • BillyCC on August 31, 2012, 7:35 GMT

    @Madura Perera, why does dominance have to mean "unbeatable"? A team could play a couple of Test matches every year for the next ten years against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, remain undefeated and under your definition, experience a decade of dominance. There are so many other factors involved. So much so, that at the end of it all, there are really only three sides in the history of cricket that are thrown into the debate of who was the most dominant team: the Windies, and Australia in the 90s and 00s and to a lesser extent the Invincibles.

  • on August 31, 2012, 5:32 GMT

    @ BillyCC. The Decade of Dominance (remain unbeatable) is a hard concept to comprehend. To claim a Decade of Dominance (DD) or joint the "DD" club a team must have 10 or more years between their win and the next consequence loss. "THE INVINCIBLES" and the "WI of 80's" have done this. Are you suggesting the Australian team of early 2000 are better than "THE INVINCIBLES". That is a preposterous claim. Without doubt "THE INVINCIBLES" are THE GREATEST EVER CRICKET TEAM. Even the Australian side that featured Bob Simpson between 1956 and 1966 are a far better side. They had a run of 9 years and unfortunately missed the entry to "DD" club by just one year. May be we need to watch old film clips to appreciate these historical teams.

  • mikey76 on August 31, 2012, 1:59 GMT

    andrew-schulz. The same Australian side that thrashed WI in 75/76 was thumped 3-1 by a Botham/Boycott inspired England in 1977. The previous year Eng were hammered by WI so you can safely say that around 76-77 the West Indies were the pre-eminent side in world cricket up until Australia went to the caribbean in 95 and won.

  • mikey76 on August 31, 2012, 1:50 GMT

    I think out of the 4 teams that will contest no.1 in the next few years, England have more strength in depth than those around them. While we don't have an embaressment of riches in the batting dept, we still have some good young players and two that were blooded this summer (Taylor & Bairstow) both aquitted themselves pretty well. India and Australia are both finding it hard to identify new talent in the batting dept, while SA are plugging away with the likes of Rudolph and Duminy who both seem average. Aus have some good young quicks in Patterson, Cummins and Starc but no spinners of any note. India have the perennial problem of finding fast bowling talent and now spin too. SA will lose Kallis soon and therefore their whole balance and haven't solved the problem of finding a frontline attacking spinner. Eng have pace bowlers in abundance and a couple of genuine all rounders on top of a clutch of talented young spinners. The next 2 years will be interesting.

  • marlboro19 on August 31, 2012, 1:10 GMT

    It should be fun- when India took the No.1 ranking , Aus supporters were on India's back.When England took over , Aus AND Ind supporters were on England's back. Now south africa has to deal with Aus,Ind , and Eng fans. IMO, they are just going to better their record at helm by a very short margin. I can relate with Ed Smith though, few months ago Eng was going to be the best team ever, now they had been beaten by SA, it should be SA. Thank god you don't work in share market.

  • BillyCC on August 31, 2012, 0:51 GMT

    @Madura Perera, you must be kidding trying to say that the key measure is not losing a test series. Drawing a series is also significant. The great sides dominate. The good sides win a few series and draw a few. South Africa are currently a good side and they've drawn too many series in the past three years. Otherwise, they would have reached number one a year ago. India were also in that same boat. Dhoni did not lose a series as captain until England thrashed them and that spanned more than 3 years.

  • on August 30, 2012, 22:05 GMT

    @ Meety

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/series/60702.html

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/series/214350.html

    South Africa has not lost a test series since Jan 2010 that gives them close to 3 years, hope they can continue this for at least another 7 years to reach that elusive 2 digit number of 10 or more.

  • on August 30, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    It's perhaps for the umpteenth time over the past few years that a cricket analyst/pundit/commentator has had this to say about the state of Test cricket: "Suddenly Test cricket doesn't look so doomed." Seriously, don't you guys grow tired of all this! And what's with this rush to proclaim newly number one-ranked sides as one of the best ever.

  • Nerk on August 30, 2012, 11:50 GMT

    South Africa, on paper, are the best side in the world. They have one terrific opener, one who looks good, a splendid middle order and a terrifyingly quick bowling attack. Their only problem is a spinner, though I recall Harris fulfilled that job very well for a number of years and is certainly better than Tahir. However, they do have a problem with winning series. They nearly threw away the series against England in the final test, had England taken their catches it would have been a drawn series for sure. They were unable to beat Aus at home last year, and unable to beat an Indian team very similar to the one thrashed by both England and Australia on their home turf. This seems to be their problem. They need to win more series.

  • Meety on August 30, 2012, 11:04 GMT

    @Madura Perrera - mate how do you come up with Oz period of dominance being FIVE years? Oz's FIRST 16 straight wins started in 1999, & most fans would concede that Oz's dominance started in & around 94/95 & ran through to at least the end of their SECOND 16 straight games which finished in Jan 2008. That is between NINE & FIFTEEN years depending on a reasonable POV, which I sort of doubt you have! The WIndies longest winning stretch was ELEVEN games. @andrew-schulz - well said. The WIndies had the components of their period of dominance before 1980. BTW - pretty sure England were RANKED #1 in 1980 (retrospectively).

  • on August 30, 2012, 10:21 GMT

    I think we should not also forget The Invincibles. This Australian team had the services of Sir Donald Bradman for most of this period. Their run started in 1934 and ended in 1953. They have 19 years under their belt.

  • on August 30, 2012, 9:40 GMT

    If history is important, then comparing West Indies to any other country is quite laughable. West Indies started their run in 1980 and went on to 1995 without losing a series in Test cricket spanning close to 15 years. Australia started their run in 2001 and went to 2005 a mere 5 years.

    I don't think the WI record will be ever broken just like Bradman's average. Every time a team looses a series, then they have to wait for 15 years to break the record, that if they continue winning.

    South Africa currently is a great team and they have the hat trick, the trifecta, and the summit, but to not loose a test series for the next 15 years is quite difficult. I want bet on that.

  • analyseabhishek on August 30, 2012, 8:42 GMT

    Jacques Kallis is retiring sonner than later and with him, 2 players will be missing from the SA eleven- a solid no 4 batter and an effective 5th bowlers who can pluck out top order wickets and break partnerships! Which means SA would get back to the ground a bit.

  • BillyCC on August 30, 2012, 3:51 GMT

    @andrew-schulz, spot on! 1980/81 is about right. And the Windies dominance ended either in 1992/93 (if you are a harsh critic) or 1995 (if you are lenient). I'd say somewhere in between. Australia's run started between 1993-1995 and ended in 2008. So both sides dominated for close on 15 years straight and unopposed, despite what any ridiculous ranking system says. History will tell whether the start of any South Africa dominance unopposed starts now (2012) or never eventuates. They first have to win away on the subcontinent, which is the key challenge today. 20 years ago, it was beating the Windies in their own backyard. 35 years ago, it was beating the Australians in Australia.

  • on August 30, 2012, 3:19 GMT

    SA doesn't have a decent spinner (Tahir is no where near a good spinner), No one is sure about the reserves of the team and let's not forget about the consistent choking ability during the world cup

  • andrew-schulz on August 30, 2012, 2:29 GMT

    Interesting call: bragging rights as the world's best team. Fact is, if England had won at Lords they would have been a mile away from the world's best team. Please stop taking this ridiculous rankings system seriously. Even more ridiculous: identifying West Indies period of dominance as starting in 1976. They were belted 5-1 by Australia that year, who had also beaten them on their own soil in 1973. But because they thrashed poor little England (whom they also couldn't beat at home in 1974) apparently they were dominant. West Indies performances were mediocre up until their trip to Australia in 1980, and it is there that their 'period of dominance' should be measured from. (Certainly not 1976.) Even then, they were beaten by New Zealand, but that did not cost them the #1 ranking. This article shows the difficulties we are dealing with in ranking Test teams. A lot of tripe is written. 1976 indeed.

  • tfjones1978 on August 30, 2012, 0:23 GMT

    I find it interesting that some people commenting are implying that this is the start of a dynasty of South Africa as number one. I can remember just 12 months ago people saying the same thing about England, or two years ago about India (although a lot of people believe that India got there by scheduling matches at home, including myself). In the past four years the mantle has changed from Aust to SA to India to England to SA. There is an opportunity for it to move to another country (eg: Australia) within the next 12 months (maybe even next 6 months). I think the next 5 years will be four or five teams regularly grabbing the number one spot before sliding to middle test rankings. This amounts for some exciting games for the future.

  • hadrian.ains on August 30, 2012, 0:07 GMT

    You say that SA of 2012 would dominate a combined team with them and either England 2012 or England 2005. In your own analysis give England at least 4 of the players! Of the current teams, Cook, KP, Prior and Swann would undoubtedly get a place, and surely Anderson has a decent claim above Morkel or Philander (Anderson lost many wickets from dropped catches...). 5/11 as English is hardly dominance by SA! As for the 2005 team, it would surely be Tresco, Vaughan/Smith, Amla, Kallis, KP, ABdeV/Jones (ABdeV yet to be tested as a WK, worse then KP as a batsman), Flintoff, Steyn, Giles, Harmison (better in 2005 than Morkel or Philander!) , S. Jones. Meaning between 3 and 5 SA in the team...not what I'd call a majority!

  • Meety on August 29, 2012, 23:58 GMT

    A good read, although (IMO), there is a flaw in a small part of the article. You cannot pick England's 05 Ashes & compare them to Sth Africa's current mob. The reason being, the current mob, have had limited exposure to the great Ozzy sides around 2005. Those that did (Kallis & Smith), were nowhere near as good as they currently are now. I don't believe the current Saffa's bowling line up is as good as Saffa line ups that had Ntini, Donald, Pollock & some young bloke called Kallis. The batting line up is slightly better as, the Saffas didn't really have an Amla in the previous batting line ups. Also, using AB deVilliers as an allrounder is UNPROVEN. His batting stats fall away as a keeper, he is a fine batsmen, but as a keeper/batsmen, he is no better than Boucher. I like AB, I think he is a class batsmen, (just a shade below greatness atm), however, his keeping was ordinary in the test series, & it is fortunate that a couple of his gaffes did NOT prove costly!

  • BillyCC on August 29, 2012, 23:36 GMT

    I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. South Africa will determine their own destiny. All this talk about all the great players from previous conquering teams is a nonsense. What matters is the number of greats in one side compared to those in other sides at the same time? What is great? I always go for a limited range, ie. top 50 batsman and top 50 bowlers of all time. And let's face it, Australia only had four playing at the one time: out of Waugh, Gilchrist, Ponting, Warne and McGrath. The Windies also only had four playing at the one time: out of Marshall, Garner, Holding, Richards, Ambrose, Walsh. The other sides in those eras had at most two. Count them yourselves and you will see. The South Africans will end up with two, perhaps three playing at the same time: Kallis, Steyn, Amla perhaps and Philander perhaps. BUT the other current sides barely have one. So it is possible to sustain. The next question then is the quality of play, but that's not their fault.

  • Yakka-04 on August 29, 2012, 23:11 GMT

    You cannot compare this SA team to those 2 Dynasties. First of all they ruled world cricket in all formats for a very very long time. Secondly they not only beat teams, they humilated teams. they destroyed majority of the teams they played. Most test matches were over within 3 days. This SA team is good but no where near those dynasty level. they will have to proove it to the world in the same manner as Australia and West Indies did. Also if you look at the standard of cricket now days it is now where near as good as it use to be. So the oppositions don't present much of a challange anyway.

  • big_al_81 on August 29, 2012, 22:47 GMT

    Huge respect for Etienne's comments. Just great to read a sensible, sane view from a self-confessed partisan South African. I think he's nailed it. Nice one. SA are the best side in the world right now and would probably be that even if England had retained a bit of their form of the last three years. But just as giving England the greatness tag would have been absurdly premature, the same is true for this SA side certainly any time before about 2015!

  • mrmonty on August 29, 2012, 19:40 GMT

    @Nadeem1976, Couldn't agree with you more. But, me thinks the SA dominance is here to stay. The batters can come and go (thought Amla/Kallis/Smith/AB are far from done), but they have a bowling nucleus (Steyn is a great already and Philander on his way there) that is comparable to the best from any time in history of cricket. Even if Imran Tahir is a tourist these days, he can be a handful subcontinental conditions.

  • on August 29, 2012, 18:50 GMT

    I am a South African, and one of the biggest fans of this SA side. They are a very good side, but let's not get too carried away. To compare them to the Australians of the 1990s and early 2000s AND to the West Indies of the 1970's and 1980's is incredibly pre-emptive. They are a good side. In fact a very good side, but it is how they perform at the top and how long they can stay there that will define the kind of legacy they will leave. It's important not to fall into the same trap of overconfidence that England did after the India series last year. There is a potential for greatness, but this side is not great yet, nor can they be "up there with the greats" just yet.

  • Blindedview on August 29, 2012, 18:50 GMT

    It's so ridiculous to read the comments by many of you that this SA team is not as good as the aussies.They aren't and nowhere does the author says so.Aussies were just too dominnat for toolong for there to be any comparison at all.I don't think this article ever mentioned that aspect.What he simply meant was this team is better then all the no. 1 teams of recent years(IND,England and a fading australia)please get a life and learn to read and anaalyse articles in a better and informed way.

  • Dannymania on August 29, 2012, 18:42 GMT

    I am a pakistani and i dont think that the pakistanis have any chance of beating india right now,especially in india.Pakistani batsmen dont have any technique,they dont have any batsmen in their top 6 that the indians would like to have in their team.the only pakistani strength is spin bowling and the indians are great at playing spin.so be realistic my fellow pakistanis,we're far away from beating indians realistically.May be a display of great cricket can accomplish that but still,the indian team is better than the pakistani team.Give me one player of the class of Virat Kohli in the whole pakistani team and i'll believe that i'm wrong.Gautam Gambhir,sehwag,sachin,Raina,Dhoni etc..these are all great players with match winning capabilities.who has that in the pakistani batting line up?its the truth!thats why it'll sting.acceptance of reality is a great thing,please do that my fellow countrymen.

  • mahjut on August 29, 2012, 18:15 GMT

    SpartaArmy ... I think you'll find that Ind had a comparatively decent record against the all conquering aussies ... in fact it wasn't till that teams' twilight that they got a win in India if my memory serves me correctly. ..India were #1 when they went to SA though SA should've beaten them but i think firdose has pointed to new management. Kirsten gives a feel that something is changing for the better. this is a very strong SA side but, yes, of course it is winning consistently that counts. btw, i think 2009 is a stretch refering to Aussie dominance, they may have been dominant but it was Waugh's team that gave the impression of infallibility - not Pontings

  • siddharth1982 on August 29, 2012, 18:14 GMT

    Let South Africa be #1 in all 3 forms of the game..........who cares ?.........as long as India wins all the major world trophies... :P.......South Africa have to win atleast one major trophy to be considered great......they always get beaten in knockouts.....can't a powerful #1 team handle it ? Lets see who wins the world t20

  • sulthan_arif on August 29, 2012, 17:54 GMT

    omaghminors2010 How could you compare the newly crowned cricket team to the team who ruled for 15 years. That seems to be layman comparison. The Australian team that ruled for 15 years had legends who played almost 100 test. Even Ponting is 4th greatest batsmen of all time because he had played 165 test and mounted up 13K runs . Okay.. going by your way will you be ready to compare the Australian team of 95 to the West Indies team of that era? It is simlar to that comparing the SA team to Australian team of 1995-2009. And, another point to my thought is Average of Ricky ponting after 62 test was 49.35 with 4195 runs and currently Amla after 62 test is 49.95 with 4946 runs. Who is best no 3 ??

    So, I'd like you to not underestimate the current SA team and each team has their strengths and weakness. If you would like to compare, then compare the current SA team with Australian team of 95 who crowned as no1 team replacing WI and conclude the result. Thanks !!

  • Nadeem1976 on August 29, 2012, 16:45 GMT

    it's good to have 4 #1 ranked teams in last 4 years. australia, india, england, sa. australian dominance for 15 years was boring and killed test cricket interest. I like today's competition where all top 5 teams can become #1 with 6 months of exceptional performance. Great going ICC. This was great series between sa and eng and i hope to see a series between pakistan and india now. Ashes is already there to make us happy. great going.

  • SpartaArmy on August 29, 2012, 16:43 GMT

    It is too early to compare this SA team with the other two incredibles. When they play you always hope the other team wins because it was of such rarity. With SA, though they can dominate but are not really true conquerers. Infact they drew a series with India when they visited SA, which shows us that they are still uncompleted in this process of becoming true conquerers.

  • raghavan88 on August 29, 2012, 15:19 GMT

    South Africa's biggest tests will be the tours of Sri Lanka and UAE next year.But having drawn their last 2 series in India,beaten Pakistan in 2007 and facing Sri Lanka without Murali they should be able to win these series or manage draws in the worst case.Before that they go to Australia where conditions will suit them on the fast pitches of Gabba and WACA.

  • nccricket on August 29, 2012, 14:28 GMT

    Happy for RSA - keep it up guys! I am all for not resting on one's laurels but not too long ago India were ranked number one as well and unlike RSA they have also won both the 50 & 20 World Cups. But yet, some still trivialize their achievements while unabashedly raising up others to stratospheric levels. Amazing!

  • omaghminors2010 on August 29, 2012, 14:08 GMT

    Can we please be serious for a minute? I wasn't born to see the great west Indian side, so i am comparing the great Australian side with this south African side. To be frank, it's laughable that we are even having this debate. lets take opening batsmen.. langer/hayden are much better than smith and peterson, number 3 ponting v amla... amla is a wonderful player, but ponting is the 4th greatest batsmen of all time! (in my opinion.. others may think different) middle order SA duminy and ruldoph, wile oz had hussey and steve waugh( different times, but were comparing greatness here) then ozz had gilchrist who would smash the SA bowlers to all parts. then bowling wise, warne/mcgrath/lee/Gillespie v philander/morkel/tahir/steyn.. now i admire the SA team, but to compare with the greats of cricket is a joke.

  • Gizza on August 29, 2012, 12:17 GMT

    @Seether1, you say "Success in Asia is something that eluded the great Aussies until 2004. There is no "final frontier" for this SA team." Wrong. Australia defeated Pakistan and Sri Lanka away in the late 90's and early 2000's many times. You should only be saying success in India. And South Africa last beat India in India only in the 99-00 season. Coincidentally Australia were the last team to beat India at home so credit should be given to India for making their own country a fortress for a long period of time and to Australia for breaking that barrier in 2004.

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

    They cannot be compared with the all time great West Indian or,Australian teams ,as they have not displayed that consistency or matched their talent.Remeber the length of time for which these teams dominated world cricket.S.Africa has often declined after reaching the top.The positive part is that they have reached the top on the basis of wins overseas;be it in India;England or Australia.

  • on August 29, 2012, 11:02 GMT

    A bit early for comparisons with the WI and Aus great teams. Suffice to say at this moment in time this SA side is deserving of their current ranking and may have the players available to stay thereabouts for a couple more years. Key factors to their success have been Smith and Kallis, whose contributions have been significant. However they can't have to much longer left and it is not everyday a ~50 ave opening batsman and captain or ~55 ave middle order batsman and alrounder comes around and they will be hard to replace. Good luck to them though and I hope they do go on to greater success.

  • Matricfail on August 29, 2012, 10:54 GMT

    No matter how or how much you claim Australian team was the best in modern test cricket. Either your article is based on definition of modern by few years or you are purely assessing teams based on past few years performances. In order to become the-best SA will have to conquer all frontiers consistently for something like 7-8 years..

  • crashed on August 29, 2012, 10:50 GMT

    South Africa currently number 1 in all forms of Cricket ... first for any cricket playing nation .... Congrtatualations well done

  • PanGlupek on August 29, 2012, 10:40 GMT

    Good article, but maybe a bit harsh on Tahir: Before this series, I'd have picked Swann over him any day. Now I think Tahir might be better (or at least can become better). SA could hold onto this for a while, but they need to stop drawing series against teams like NZ, and win more games at home. Always very strong on paper, definitely deserved to beat England. England, Aus & India could all challenge them in the next couple of years, but Aus lack a quality spinner & thier best batsmen are all ageing. India have no bowling & questions over thier away form. England might not have enough batting depth if KP & Strauss don't play again, and of course, big questions about thier ability to win in the Sub-continent.

  • crashed on August 29, 2012, 10:36 GMT

    @Match_Referee, @Jonathan Jono Lane and everyone else comparing South Africa with the Windies (70's) and Ausies (2000) one question - How were these teams judged as the number 1 teams all around during their times of supremacy .. .and how were the other teams judged to be worthy test oponents. If it were on the same points system as is in use today - fair if they basically destraoyed all that they played against then those teams can be determined as quote " because all the other team were not playing properly... " (ty match_referee) at the time. Now at least we have a point system to determine who is playing properly and who not. And since South Africa plays properly i think it s fair they are considered number 1

  • Ridaa on August 29, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    @Sugath @jonesy2 Well let's see... SA have only lost ONE Test Series since Aug 2006. In that period they've won series against Aus, Eng, Ind, Pak, SL, WI, NZ and Ban... in other words every Test playing nation. They beat Pak in Pak, Aus in Aus and Eng in Eng (twice). For 6 years they've only lost ONE series.

    In that same 6 year period England have lost 8 series, against: SA (twice), Pak, WI, Ind (twice), Aus and SL.

    Aus lost 5 series, against: SA, Ind (twice), Eng (twice).

    Ind lost 5 series as well, against: SA, Aus (twice), Eng and SL.

    It's not tight at the top, one team has clearly dominated Test Cricket for the past 6 years. Their record proves it. Yet still SA's dominance is undermined.

  • BellCurve on August 29, 2012, 10:11 GMT

    Two comments: First, SA has a 3rd allrounder in Vernon Philander. Just wait and see. Second, Tahir has only played 10 Tests, and all those matches were played in England, NZ and SA on green tracks. If he gets a 'rank turner' and pick up 10 wicket in a match his average would immediately 'correct' from 40 to around 32. Four years from now it will be clear to us all that Tahir is much, much better than the King of Spain. Just wait and see.

  • harshthakor on August 29, 2012, 9:45 GMT

    Too early to rate the proteas an all time great team.Remember how England and India fell so fast from the top of the pedestal.South Africa has in the past also quickly fallen from the top place or on the verge of reaching there:They have to consistently win ,particularly in the subcontinent to be rate an all time great side.Today there is no true champion test team,morally.

  • uncanny on August 29, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    @Match_Referee: you saying styen is no more express bowler, think again !! if this was the case he wont be no 1 bowler since 2008. He would have been displaced long back. And you forgetting the fact, he is the highest wicket taker of this series. He leads the SAF bowling attack with his head held high. He could have been more lethal if he had the new cherry all the time, which he could have asked and no one in world can stop him from that.

  • RandyOZ on August 29, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    England got Amla'd. The good thing is Australia will be returning to their rightful place at the top after the summer is done.

  • Harlequin. on August 29, 2012, 9:27 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster - I would say that this series was SA's defining moment, Australia are morbidly average and I can't see them being much more than a road bump in front of the saffer steamroller @Nuxxy - why would anyone chastise SA for a lack of humility? People were criticising England/India for it out of jealousy - I saw little evidence of it (except perhaps in Swann & Broad) @Match_referee - He perhaps hasn't played enough yet to be classed as great, but I rate Philander above Morkel. @Jonesy2 - hahahahahahahahahahahaha!

  • FieryFerg on August 29, 2012, 8:51 GMT

    Given most of England's openers problems came from Morkel, and as a bowler, I would always say go round the wicket to the left-handers. SA didn't give Steyn the new ball when you would have thought he would be perfect for Ed's theory. They preferred Morkel angling it in from round then straightening it and I think many left handers (certainly Englands) struggle to cope with that as it's so unfamiliar.

  • shovwar on August 29, 2012, 8:47 GMT

    the beginning of the SA era. Word "c" has a new meaning now : "champs"

  • on August 29, 2012, 8:25 GMT

    I think all the noise about England being such a wonderful team that would stay number 1 forever proved one thing... only time will tell on whether a team can sustain their place as the number test team. I also enjoy the number of articles we see that claim test cricket isn't so doomed every time there's a good test... and note the almost complete absence of any commentary one-day cricket is similarly safe. Has anyone actually noticed how little interest is given to one day cricket these days?

  • on August 29, 2012, 8:15 GMT

    Of course they're talented, quite talented enough to supply other countries with a bunch of internationals!But i reckon saffers would falter when it comes to sustaining their ruthlessness and maintaining the high standards for a prolonged time period. Good team, yeah. Best team, never. Still remember smith openly gloating that no team was good enough to even challenge saffers in international arena before the start of champions trophy in 2009. Deservedly, they were roundly beaten and exited in the first round.

  • TsoroM on August 29, 2012, 8:05 GMT

    @ Match_Referee, interesting there... Mate I don't think u could be more wrong. SA are just playing a good brand of test cricket no matter what other teams do... The wins are not handed to them, they earn them.

  • o-bomb on August 29, 2012, 7:52 GMT

    @Match_Referee - So you're saying Steyn (the number 1 bowler in world cricket) is not world class? Are you dreaming? Ok so his series average of 29.2 isn't up to his usual magnificent standards, but that doesn't make him bad all of a sudden. I'd bet on him averaging under 25 with the ball in Australia. @jonesy2 - does this mean you'll be switching the focus of your jibes to South Africa or will we still have the comfort of your anti english "wisdom"?

  • on August 29, 2012, 7:42 GMT

    Well done SA, well deserved success on this tour and clearly the best team around today. However, it is a bit early to compare this team with great teams of the past. In Australia, England looked invincible as they handed out big thrashings and their top order collected big hundreds for fun. The fickle hand of form is temporary, and we now know that the England team that did so well in Australia was a decent side that played very well at the time. The SA side could today be rated as a great side if it had dominated for the last 5 years instead of the last 3 months. They might have performed away from home, but surely great sides would have performed at home too? They are not yet deserving of being rated "great". Let's see if they are still dominating in a years time let alone 5 years time. My feeling is that there are a number of key players who are at their zenith, and others whose form looks somewhat less than permanent.

  • Seether1 on August 29, 2012, 7:36 GMT

    @Sugath: Hahaha Ajmal is the only good bowler you mention. Btw South African teams have come to Asia before and won, scoring runs against far superior spinners as mentioned by you. The like of Harbhajan and Kumble in their prime, Saqlain and Mushtaq and even Murali. In fact, except for the last loss to SL in 2006, we have been pretty successful in Asia. Success in Asia is something that eluded the great Aussies until 2004. There is no "final frontier" for this SA team.

  • on August 29, 2012, 7:35 GMT

    Well done Ed. In an era dominated by batsman; or should I say sloggers; this Protea team is a revelation, especially the bowling. Wish we could have a quality spinner in our ranks soon.

  • Wexfordwonder on August 29, 2012, 6:41 GMT

    I think that it would be more accurate to say that SA do not have a match winning leg spinner "as yet". It is early days for Tahir and we will wait to see how he develops. He could stay mediocre or he could become a great bowler.

  • jonesy2 on August 29, 2012, 6:38 GMT

    hahaha no south africa ARE just a decent side that happen to be number 1 which should be temporary after this summer. england just happen to be a poor team that somehow got to number 1 via a glaring idiocincracy and were beaten by a pretty good SA side.

  • Match_Referee on August 29, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    Never compare the current No. 1 SA team with the geat WI team of 70s and Australian team of 2000s. SA are No.1 because all the other team are not playing properly... Amla & Devillars are only world class batsmen in the team and Morkel is the only class bowler there (Steyn is no longer Express Bowler now, his good contribution in this win is only by taking Trott's wicket every time, other than that nothing great to mention)

  • CYLEFTI on August 29, 2012, 6:08 GMT

    Good stuff Ed! As a loyal Saffer supporter i have to say that the SA team has finally given some joy to its loyal supporters. One to many times in the past we knew they were one of the top 3 teams, and yet were consistantly failing in the major tournaments, especially World Cups. England have a great side, just as you compared teams above, if the Majority of the England players were in form it would be a tough choice to choose between the two!

  • Nuxxy on August 29, 2012, 6:05 GMT

    Before anyone starts chastising SA for a lack of humility, please realize that this is an English writer.

  • cris89 on August 29, 2012, 6:00 GMT

    Spot on about SA being better placed than England and India to hold on to the N.o. 1 spot. SA have 3 of the top 5 batsmen and 2 of the top 5 bowlers in the world according to the ICC rankings. I can't agree with your assertion that the Lord's test match was one of the greatest of the modern era. England played below their best for most of the match and the game got exciting only because the English batters were pretty lucky and Imran Tahir delivered pies. On another day, they might well have been bundled out for 170-180 in the 2nd innings.

  • Sugath on August 29, 2012, 5:55 GMT

    Let them come to South Asia and face the likes of Ashwin, Saeed Ajmal and the new Murali in Sri lanka and then you will see the fun

  • Cpt.Meanster on August 29, 2012, 4:39 GMT

    I think it's fair to say that SA look set to be an all time best team. They have been pretty much the ONLY team to consistently perform overseas and the ONLY non-Asian team to compete well in the sub-continent. Although, in recent years their home record hasn't been convincing. But still, winning abroad shows the toughness of a team. Sadly, too many teams now are lions at home and sheep abroad. SA are clearly the BEST team right now followed by England and then Australia. The Asian teams are all average and inconsistent. So world cricket is facing an interesting era. Will SA's Cinderella tale continue OR will they flatter to deceive like India and England ? Their tour to Australia later this year will be a DEFINING moment. Should they win, the no.1 ranking should be theirs for some time to come.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Cpt.Meanster on August 29, 2012, 4:39 GMT

    I think it's fair to say that SA look set to be an all time best team. They have been pretty much the ONLY team to consistently perform overseas and the ONLY non-Asian team to compete well in the sub-continent. Although, in recent years their home record hasn't been convincing. But still, winning abroad shows the toughness of a team. Sadly, too many teams now are lions at home and sheep abroad. SA are clearly the BEST team right now followed by England and then Australia. The Asian teams are all average and inconsistent. So world cricket is facing an interesting era. Will SA's Cinderella tale continue OR will they flatter to deceive like India and England ? Their tour to Australia later this year will be a DEFINING moment. Should they win, the no.1 ranking should be theirs for some time to come.

  • Sugath on August 29, 2012, 5:55 GMT

    Let them come to South Asia and face the likes of Ashwin, Saeed Ajmal and the new Murali in Sri lanka and then you will see the fun

  • cris89 on August 29, 2012, 6:00 GMT

    Spot on about SA being better placed than England and India to hold on to the N.o. 1 spot. SA have 3 of the top 5 batsmen and 2 of the top 5 bowlers in the world according to the ICC rankings. I can't agree with your assertion that the Lord's test match was one of the greatest of the modern era. England played below their best for most of the match and the game got exciting only because the English batters were pretty lucky and Imran Tahir delivered pies. On another day, they might well have been bundled out for 170-180 in the 2nd innings.

  • Nuxxy on August 29, 2012, 6:05 GMT

    Before anyone starts chastising SA for a lack of humility, please realize that this is an English writer.

  • CYLEFTI on August 29, 2012, 6:08 GMT

    Good stuff Ed! As a loyal Saffer supporter i have to say that the SA team has finally given some joy to its loyal supporters. One to many times in the past we knew they were one of the top 3 teams, and yet were consistantly failing in the major tournaments, especially World Cups. England have a great side, just as you compared teams above, if the Majority of the England players were in form it would be a tough choice to choose between the two!

  • Match_Referee on August 29, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    Never compare the current No. 1 SA team with the geat WI team of 70s and Australian team of 2000s. SA are No.1 because all the other team are not playing properly... Amla & Devillars are only world class batsmen in the team and Morkel is the only class bowler there (Steyn is no longer Express Bowler now, his good contribution in this win is only by taking Trott's wicket every time, other than that nothing great to mention)

  • jonesy2 on August 29, 2012, 6:38 GMT

    hahaha no south africa ARE just a decent side that happen to be number 1 which should be temporary after this summer. england just happen to be a poor team that somehow got to number 1 via a glaring idiocincracy and were beaten by a pretty good SA side.

  • Wexfordwonder on August 29, 2012, 6:41 GMT

    I think that it would be more accurate to say that SA do not have a match winning leg spinner "as yet". It is early days for Tahir and we will wait to see how he develops. He could stay mediocre or he could become a great bowler.

  • on August 29, 2012, 7:35 GMT

    Well done Ed. In an era dominated by batsman; or should I say sloggers; this Protea team is a revelation, especially the bowling. Wish we could have a quality spinner in our ranks soon.

  • Seether1 on August 29, 2012, 7:36 GMT

    @Sugath: Hahaha Ajmal is the only good bowler you mention. Btw South African teams have come to Asia before and won, scoring runs against far superior spinners as mentioned by you. The like of Harbhajan and Kumble in their prime, Saqlain and Mushtaq and even Murali. In fact, except for the last loss to SL in 2006, we have been pretty successful in Asia. Success in Asia is something that eluded the great Aussies until 2004. There is no "final frontier" for this SA team.