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South Africa set for long spell at No. 1

Among the top four sides, they appear to have the best combination on and off the field. But they have to find de Villiers' best position and prepare for life after Kallis

Harsha Bhogle

August 31, 2012

Comments: 88 | Text size: A | A

AB de Villiers took the gloves after Mark Boucher's injury, Somerset v South Africans, Tour Match, Taunton, 1st day, July 9, 2012
If South Africa continue to use AB de Villiers as a wicketkeeper in Tests, they will get much less from him as a batsman than they otherwise can © Getty Images

There is something wonderfully appropriate about South Africa's ascent to No. 1 in Test cricket, indeed in all forms. They have long postured, threatened, have sighted the goal, briefly ascended it, but for a team that loves to play hard cricket have always given the impression of being vulnerable challengers. This time there is an air of permanency, though Australia, their old but currently underperforming adversaries, might change that in what promises to be a sumptuous series later this year.

I have always been intrigued by South Africa because they have always had the players to be the best. But I thought sometimes they looked upon every day as a battle to be won than as a game to be enjoyed; that their intensity consumed them rather than the opposition; that, having been away from international cricket for so long, they wanted to prove a point every time they took the field.

I got the impression - one derived from 100 yards away, sometimes a few 100 kilometres away - that they were constantly at war, hardly ever playing a sport. And that this intensity was probably part of their ethos.

I remember working with some of the best cameramen in the early years of South Africa's return. If their team lost, the normally fun guys turned sullen, locked themselves in and gave the impression of being vanquished in a duel in the jungle. You could try telling them that tomorrow would be another day but it never worked. They had lost and they almost punished themselves for it.

So what's changed now? Apart from the fact that Australia are in a difficult transition, and teams like India and England are struggling to play in overseas conditions, I think too that a couple of players have turned older, are starting to look back, maybe have acquired a different perspective; and two fine cricketers have made a telling contribution and taken the pressure away from some others.

And then there is Gary Kirsten: gentle, soft-spoken and a genuine giver in an atmosphere of testosterone-fuelled warriors. Scyld Berry was right when he said Andy Flower had to inject intensity into England while Kirsten had to do the opposite to help his charges relax. Tendulkar described him as the friend he needed post-2007. Maybe in the highly competitive, hugely driven world of high-performance people, a friend who works for their benefit is a factor that hasn't been studied enough. Eventually, a team that wins makes everyone around it, and often within it, look good, but it is just as true that winning comes from putting people in the best frame of mind to perform.

In 2003, soon after South Africa crashed out of the World Cup yet again, Kirsten spent a day in our studio and, rather stunningly at the time, suggested that the only way ahead for them was to erase the past and go with Graeme Smith, then only 23, as the captain. Smith was brash, sometimes arrogant, and great captains of the past often pointed out early shortcomings. But he has been excellent for South Africa, and along with Jacques Kallis, has defined this team.

Kallis has been their greatest cricketer post-apartheid, capable of being in a shortlist of their finest ever. And even now, as the bustle to the crease seems a little more forced, he continues to provide them with the kind of balance every other team can only dream of. He has been central to this ascent.

Now, he need no longer be the go-to man at all times. The arrival of Vernon Philander and the delightfully understated Hashim Amla will take the burden off him though he'll continue playing strong cameos.

It is interesting that even now praise for Philander seems a bit conditional. Critics seem to turn a little more demanding in evaluating him.

Not so with Amla, who, like Dravid, is emerging to be one of the most liked, most respectable cricketers in the game. Amla might be modest enough to say he isn't even the second best batsman in the team but on current form he is the best. He gives South Africa a sense of calm they haven't always enjoyed. There is a serenity to him that I saw with Buddhist monks in Bodh Gaya - present and yet detached, and a wonderful example of using faith to imbue yourself with calm and dignity rather than submit to more contemporary interpretations of it.

Amla and AB de Villiers will be the new core and Philander will allow Dale Steyn to be used more effectively.

But like with all outstanding teams there is the odd cloud on the horizon. South Africa need the brilliant de Villiers to play a greater role with the bat, and he has to play at No. 4 from where he can dominate. It worked very well in England where the presence of Kallis and Duminy in the top seven meant they were always a batsman and a bowler extra, but it will be sad if it means that de Villiers dilutes his role as a batsman. For him to be freed they will need a wicketkeeper who can bat at No. 7. They haven't found one yet.

South Africa will also discover that Kallis afforded them a luxury they must slowly learn to do without. That combination of skills comes rarely so they must either live with Duminy playing the fifth bowler's role or quickly groom a No. 6 who can take 100 Test wickets. Playing four bowlers will expose them to how the rest of the world lives.

Their reign at No. 1 will depend, as it always has with teams that aspire for greatness, on how the bowlers adapt to different conditions. But at the moment their batting looks stronger than Australia's or England's, and their bowling significantly better than anyone else's.

The No. 1 position has been on a short-term lease ever since Australia bowed out. In the current context, South Africa seem best placed to stay there a while.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by jay57870 on (September 3, 2012, 4:29 GMT)

Harsha - Yes, "testosterone-fuelled warriors" indeed! But a side without any Young Guns? It's paradoxical: the youngest is Philander at an over-ripe age of 27! Conventional wisdom says an ideal lineup requires an optimal mix of experience & youth. Contrary to it, a bulk of the SA playing side is in the 28-32 age group - at "peak" capacity - incl stars Smith, Amla, Steyn & de Villiers. Even the reserves are over 28, except for de Lange (21). Duminy (28) is a "wild card" bonus: Is it serendipity that Boucher (35) got hurt? Or did the "next big thing" show up? For sure, SA's firing on all cylinders, boosted by a supercharged Kallis (36). Yes, uber-coach Kirsten arrived in time to guide Team SA to the summit. Just as he did with Team India. Again with help from Mike Horn, the explorer for the SA Alps expedition. What next? "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"? Still it begs the No.1 question: Can the SA warriors realistically stay on top & perform at peak capacity without Young Guns, Harsha?

Posted by timmyw on (September 3, 2012, 2:26 GMT)

@ Nerk. - "They couldn't beat Aus or England on their own soil" Urrmm.. SA did beat Aus on our home soil mate. I agree with some sentiments here, AB needs to be a specialist batsman. They need a WK quicksmart. I don't really see anyone there to replace Kallis, but when you think about it who is going to replace Kallis? There is literally no one. Sobers? Miller? Khan? Aside from those two little niggles I reckon SA will be on top for years. Good Luck to them, they deserve it!

Posted by johnathonjosephs on (September 2, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

South Africa is the only current team that can hold the Number 1 Ranking for more than a year. The only way I can see them losing that spot is if India packs their schedule with Tests against Bangladesh/West Indies/New Zealand/Zimbabwe (which they have been doing) to make themselves look good. But then again, when they go back against England/Australia/South Africa they will get whitewashed pretty badly. Kohli/Dhoni are no match for real Test Bowlers and there is no more Laxman and Dravid to save India this time

Posted by Nerk on (September 2, 2012, 23:16 GMT)

Sth Africa have, for a number of years now, clearly had the best team in the world. That is clear. Aside from Smith's opening buddy, AP doing a decent job but can it be sustained, and their perpetual problems in finding a spinner (I thought Harris was good, but Tahir got the nod for, well, no reason whatsoever) they are the best team in the world. Their problem is that they don't win too many series. Last two against India, both home and away, have been drawn. They couldn't beat Aus or England on their own soil, and whilst they have redressed that in regards to England, Australia will prove a little harder I think.

Posted by   on (September 2, 2012, 23:10 GMT)

Disagree, They don't have the depth in bowling. Not at all convinced by Philander or Tutsobe. Just having a decent first burst. They are not in the Morkel and Steyn vein..not by a very long way. And Tahir is a second innings spinner only who is already 33. SA will be good for as long as Morkel and Steyn are firing. Without one they look half the side, without both they would be fodder.

Posted by Paulk on (September 2, 2012, 21:24 GMT)

Making 30s and 40s seems a waste for someone of ABs talents, who is arguably the most dynamic batsman in world cricket today, KP and Amla included. The SA management and coaching should seriously consider whether burdening him with keeping is making the best use of his talents.

Posted by   on (September 2, 2012, 8:57 GMT)

@ Drew Foster - True, SA did throw the last 8 wickets away for next to nothing. And then the Aussies could not muster even 50 runs(and they should really have been bowled out for 35). Conditions?? Think by how many wickets SA won that test. Smith and Amla can in after it was raining wickets, and batted as if they were playing on one of the flattest pitches ever. Conditions??

Posted by tommytucker on (September 2, 2012, 6:42 GMT)

Kallis I love you 4 eva !!

Posted by spiritwithin on (September 1, 2012, 22:21 GMT)

@Greatest_Game...............>>>South Africa have, on the sub-continent, in a test series, beaten India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. No team from the sub-continent has EVER beaten SA in a test series in Africa!! What does SA have to prove?>>>.........................stop living in the past dude,SA's past team won one series in india in 2000,the current team did'nt,its like saying england has proved themselves in india bcoz they won a series in 1984..also SA won in SL in 1993,since then they were thrashed in SL..so unless ur present team does'nt prove itself in subcontinent then they r also not a worthy no.1..Hansie Cronje's Team beating india in 2000 does'nt mean the present team has proved themselves,stop giving silly logics..let ur team win in india,sl and pak first,as far as i remember SA did'nt won a series in their last tour to india,SL and in UAE against pak...now dont say ur team has won in blah blah era hence they proved LOLLLLLLLLLL

Posted by tommytucker on (September 1, 2012, 21:01 GMT)

Kallis I love you 4 eva !!

Posted by threeslipsandagully on (September 1, 2012, 20:44 GMT)

People are getting slightly ahead of themselves with regards to Quinton de Kock's potential. There's no doubting that he's a genuine prospect but so far he's only really scored runs in provincial and U19 cricket, he's only played two matches for a franchise, so he's basically untested so far. For the time being I'd say Vilas, Kuhn or even Smit would be safer bets for the time being.

Posted by   on (September 1, 2012, 19:13 GMT)

I am surprised Harsha didnt mention about how he feels South Africas spin attack is shaoing up

Posted by landl47 on (September 1, 2012, 13:28 GMT)

It depends on how long 'a while' is. SA has maybe a couple of years, assuming they play at the same level, but Kallis is 36 and without him SA is missing both one of the greatest bats in the game and also the balance in their bowling attack. It's noticeable how much less effective ABD is as a batsman when he keeps wicket so that has to be addressed; Tahir really isn't the answer to SA's lack of a spinner and the supporting cast of batsmen isn't that great. SA is built around stars and when they fail or retire there's not much else. The SA fans should enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Posted by Nampally on (September 1, 2012, 13:02 GMT)

Yes, SA is the best team currently in Test Cricket. They are well balanced side with the best coach in the World in Kirsten. A similar lethal combination existed when India had Kumble, Harbhajan at their best + Dravid, Tendulkar & Laxman at their peak. So the rise & fall of each team goes in spells. SA has Kallis, Smith & Amla at their peak now along with bowlers like Morkel, Steyn,Philander to back them up. Support batsmen like de Vellierre, Peterson & Duminy are also good with back ups like Gibbs in waiting. But SA's main batting consistency comes from Amla & Kallis. While Amla is about 30, Kallis is at 37 is on the verge of retirement. As long as Amla is in form SA will score big totals.So I give SA 2 years at the top (like India did) before the next Nation takes over.That is as long as any Nation can hope to remain at the top these days. In these Crazy schedules cricket world, things change fast due to "burn outs".Enjoy the #1 reign SA, because it is short -England had only months!

Posted by MAK123 on (September 1, 2012, 9:26 GMT)

Dont' worry about Kallis, Harsha; worry about Sachin Tendulkar who is quickly becoming a joke by clinging on despite a series of below par performances over a period of time. Perhaps people like yourself should convince him to take a leaf out of Strauss' book if he wants to be counted amongst the greats - while Strauss has surely carved his name amongst the greats, Sachin is well on his way to becoming a drawing room joke

Posted by   on (September 1, 2012, 9:25 GMT)

@Greatest Game Its funny that nobody remembers the fact that in the 9 wickets to fall prior to Australia's 10-47 were South Africa's 9 for 47 runs too. I think this says something about conditions, don't you?

Posted by RAJA_06 on (September 1, 2012, 8:03 GMT)

SA is a true champion team, one of the teams which plays Cricket in good spirit...KALLIS seems getting better with the age. Feel it's high time India should opt for young guns as Dravid n Laxman gone, Sachin should go soon....as he finished his landmark of 100 tons. India doesn't need him anymore. May be he's still enjoying cricket but not the public.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (September 1, 2012, 6:13 GMT)

@kh1902 on (September 01 2012, 01:13 AM GMT) No statistical anomalies about Kallis. More centuries than Ponting in 20 less innings is no anomaly - he's just a better batsman. He'll pass Ponting in runs scored too! Higher average than any +20 innings Aus batsman, except the only real statistical anomaly, Bradman. More wickets than all but 5 Aussie specialist bowlers. Not a statistical anomaly, just the number of wickets he's taken. There are only two all-rounders who stand head and shoulders above the rest - Kallis and Sobers. Their reputations are based on solid statistics. But there are plenty of people with nothing to show, who are all too quick to stand in judgment on those whose achievements they could never dream to emulate. Opinions are cheap and easy, everyone has them, and they are all more or less equal. That's why they are only opinions. Kallis has only ONE equal, and THAT is the real anomaly: that there is one human being who has ever equaled his achievements.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (September 1, 2012, 5:33 GMT)

jonesy2 on (August 31 2012, 10:40 AM GMT) Cast your mind back to November 10, 2011. Less than one year ago. Australia - 47 all out vs South Africa. Australia's lowest score since 10 February 1888. Forty-seven runs - tied with West Indies for the lowest innings total this century. Bangladesh has never had an innings total under 62! Forty-seven runs all out: does this sound like the BEST team in the world?? Nope - sure does not! Losing at home to SA & losing the Ashes to the Poms in 2009 - embarrassing. Losing the Ashes AT HOME in 2010/11 - humiliating. Forty-seven all out, lower than Bangladesh has ever been - PRICELESS!!!! "Clearly the best team in the world" says jonesy2. He he he he - yea right, dream on.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (September 1, 2012, 4:49 GMT)

South Africa have, on the sub-continent, in a test series, beaten India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. No team from the sub-continent has EVER beaten SA in a test series in Africa!! What does SA have to prove? That they can beat EVERY team from the sub-continent at home, AGAIN? Really? SA whitewashed India 2-0, IN India! (Dominating a series?) In Tests in India, each country has won 5, with 2 drawn. In Pakistan SA have won 2 Tests & Pak only 1, with 6 drawn. At home Sri Lanka have won 4 Tests, SA 2, with 4 drawn. In tests in Africa, SA have won 7, India 2. Against Pak SA won 6, Pak 2. Against SL SA won 8, SL 1. Bangladesh lost every Test against SA. To sum up: SA has beaten EVERY sub-continent team AT HOME, on the sub-continent, in a series. ONLY Sri Lanka has a winning record against SA in Tests on the sub-continent. What does remain to be proved is whether a sub-continent team can EVER win a series in South Africa.

Posted by Robster1 on (September 1, 2012, 3:57 GMT)

What a well balanced, thoughtful article. Yes, King Kallis is indeed the most fabulous of players and almost irreplacable. For now it is crucial that De Villiers i s no longer burdened with the gloves in test matches. In the medium term this could mean Kuhn or Vilas at no 7, with the potentially outstanding De Kock the most likely longer term successor to Boucher. Tsolelike is not the solution - his batting is far too poor.

Posted by   on (September 1, 2012, 2:47 GMT)

AT ppd 123 EVEN ENGLAND AND PAKISTAN have defeated india in india in test series. get facts straight bro.

Posted by   on (September 1, 2012, 2:42 GMT)

"I got the impression - one derived from 100 yards away, sometimes a few 100 kilometres away - that they were constantly at war, hardly ever playing a sport." you said it yourself. if you had ever faced even one ball from someone like morkel or steyn in real life may be you could appreciate things better. this is the sad part of indian cricket...people who have never faced a ball in their whole life think they know everything about cricket.

Posted by RodStark on (September 1, 2012, 2:40 GMT)

There is definitely a difference between being ranked number one by the (perhaps flawed) ranking system and being considered the "best team" by Cricinfo pundits! I doubt we'll have a generally agreed "best team" for a while. It looks like SA are strongest right now, but as the article points out, SA has problems on the horizon with the wk and with Kallis' age, as well as the likelihood that Amla and Philander will slump at some point. When England became number 1, it looked like they had a fairly young team that could stay together and be successful for a while, along with the alleged "strength in depth" and "succession planning". But look at them now! Aus are looking like they're getting it together, but they're still relying on the aging Ponting and Hussey. India seems to think that the only thing that matters is winning in the subcontinent, so none of the other top teams are good enough, but India have lost 8-0 in their last games in England and Australia. It all seems pretty even.

Posted by   on (September 1, 2012, 2:31 GMT)

@PPD 123 Get your facts straight bro. Even Pakistan have beaten india in india in a test series (86 i think).

Posted by kh1902 on (September 1, 2012, 1:13 GMT)

Don't agree with Harsha's assessment. I think Australia will reemerge - they have a stable of young fast bowlers, at least a couple of whom will emerge over the next couple of years.

SA drew with India at home, lost a test match to Sri Lanka at home and drew with Australia. They've never had a problem winning away. To be a really good team you have to win everywhere.

I don't agree with the importance given to Kallis either. SA beat Australia and England previously with Kallis doing next to nothing. In this series against England he made one big hundred on a flat track when SA were in the box seat. SA will miss Smith and Steyn if they're not there - they are the real pillars of SA cricket not Kallis. They deserve more credit. Tired of hearing about a guy who's reputation is based largely on statistical anomalies.

Posted by Deepakrio278 on (September 1, 2012, 1:05 GMT)

When it comes from people like Harsha,as a South African fan must appreciate it..Not many out there who appreciate these guys for wat they achieved..Thanku Harsha..

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 23:07 GMT)

brilliant piece, most perceptive. thanks. Kallis has been an unheralded pillar of strength and you are absolutely right about the impact of his inevitable tailing off with age. And De Villers relative failure with the bat on this tour has to be attributed to the immense ball-by-ball pressure of keeping wicket at this level. Kirsten, dead-on.the best succinct piece on SA cricket that I've read

Posted by Puffin on (August 31, 2012, 22:39 GMT)

I think it is a case of who they are playing, when and where that will determine how long they stay there. There does not appear to be an all-conquering side these days: so in order to stay number one, whoever is there needs to hammer the minnows and do just well enough against the uppermost contenders.

If there was a team like the WI 80's or Aussies until recently, then they would be stuffing everyone just about everywhere. That is clearly not happening -perhaps the current situation is more interesting and beneficial for cricket.

Posted by 7436 on (August 31, 2012, 21:12 GMT)

Love reading comments from England supporters about England's immense depth & South Africa's lack thereof. And then England go and pick yet ANOTHER South African for the England team. You could probably pick a side from those South Africans who have either played for England in all formats in the last five years or will play in the next three. Add in the three who play for NZ and you've got a squad that could probably beat half of the Test-playing nations.

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 20:45 GMT)

@Aditya Barve..do you really think SA haven't yet proven themselves in Sub-conti.. they defeated India in India convincingly in 2000. Lost a series in '05 but havent lost a series in their last 2 trips to india. Infact, in last 2 series India had to do all the catching and prepare doctored tracks to draw the series after trailing by 1-0 before the final tests on both occasions. SA are the only tourist team who have played exceptionally well on sub-conti tracks.

Posted by lee_man on (August 31, 2012, 20:10 GMT)

Why do the South Africans have to dominate in sub-continent conditions to prove themselves? I may be wrong, but I don't think the great Australian teams ever dominated under sub-continent conditions, yet they were really great teams. I have considered SA to be the best team around for the past few years despite who held the no. 1 ranking. From the look of things they probably have a few year more on top, at least in test cricket.

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 19:10 GMT)

Sadly for SA supporters, Mr.Bhogle is not exactly known for accurate predictions. (Though I do hope that SA set the bar so high that others have to raise their game rather than take the shortcut by playing at home).

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 18:15 GMT)

Harsha, I think SA is a great side, but I have to point three things here. 1. SA now has to prove in Indian sub-continent and dominate the test series to be real worthy of the #1 2. What happens when Kallis is gone? 3. Taking in to consideration current form of Hashim Amla, wait and see if he sleeps out of form some day, by that they may not have Kallis as well. what then?

Well, I think we will have to wait and see. But I love SA team I hope for the best.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 31, 2012, 18:12 GMT)

@mikey76: What depth are you talking about ? Your team don't even know how to play in spinning and low/slow conditions. You will be dusted, washed and dried out in India. Might as well stay at home and have some Christmas pudding this winter. Such over confidence has already led England to lose all their no.1 rankings. If such an attitude continues, I only see a free fall for them here on. No KP, no Strauss = disaster waiting in India. The other day I was hearing Switch Hit pod cast and some of the probable replacements for Strauss were being discussed. I couldn't stop laughing. Nick Compton ? Michael Carberry ? Are they serious ? Goodness... now I really can't wait for the series in India.

Posted by mikey76 on (August 31, 2012, 16:57 GMT)

Dont agree Harsha, dont see this SA side dominating for much more than 18 months or so. England have far more strength in depth. Once Kallis goes then the playing field really does get levelled. No attacking spinner will really be SA's achilles heel. After we've dusted India and sent NZ packing the rankings might look a little different.

Posted by PPD123 on (August 31, 2012, 16:56 GMT)

In the current scheme of things SA are the best cricketing side in the world. In the last 5 years (Since Warne& McGrath retired together) the have been one side which has consistently won outside of SA, & that is no mean acheivement. They have a great bowling side,capable of taking 20 wkts in most conditions and their batting looks very solid for almost every condition. Their fielding has always been a cut above the rest & they easily qualify in the top 3 there. Thats why I feel they have most of the bases covered. Agree they dont have a great spinner, but guess what when you have such an impressive pace attack, it should be good enough. Remember Warne for all his greatness never really succeded in India. They have shown that in the past being one of the only team outside of Aus to Win a test series in India. Agree with Harsha, they need to manage Kallis and De Villiers. Both these guys provide tremendous balance and muscle to the side. I feel SA will stay at the top for sometime yet.

Posted by big_al_81 on (August 31, 2012, 16:39 GMT)

Form is temporary, class is permanent and none of the last three incumbents of the Number 1 position in Tests have yet proved they had all-time great class as a team. I don't think that will change with SA. They have a team in form at present and are very good indeed. They need to get a lot more ruthless at home though! Why Harsha thinks England aren't is a mystery though - is it because the only overseas that matters to people from the subcontinent is the subcontinent? And for that matter they won their most recent test there! There is every chance of England beating India and Australia who are pretty decent beating SA so it could be all change again by Christmas. Nice to see Jonesy cracking his jokes again...

Posted by StatisticsRocks on (August 31, 2012, 16:32 GMT)

Well Everyone said that about ENG when they got to #1 and look what hapenned. I agree if any team looks to win in all conditions it is SA, but I still don't think they can dominate and retain that #1 for a long time. I would like to see SA vs. PAK in the subcontinent and how they tackel Ajmal. @jonsey2 u make me laugh. Look how the Aussies are struggling against PAK spin attack in the ongoing ODI's let alone playing Pak in test matches. Should PAK get one or two good batsmen I believe they can dominate the cricketing world. I am sure it might seem surprising coming from an Indian fan, but it's a fact.

Posted by Vilander on (August 31, 2012, 15:58 GMT)

After the Aussie decade the Indian 2 years and the English 1 year seem trivial. Now we have to see how long SA hold.

Posted by Vilander on (August 31, 2012, 15:53 GMT)

SA are such a champion side, i am honestly 'J' about it. :L

Posted by spirit_of_the_game on (August 31, 2012, 14:39 GMT)

@jonesy2 you are hilarious man.....ur comment "haha. south africa are competing with england, india and pakistan to see who is the second best team in the world. australia clearly the best and only going to get better and better, obviously. but this was a good laugh to read"..............i guess that makes u the second best after "the all time great" randyOz.....

Posted by Smahuta on (August 31, 2012, 13:57 GMT)

Lol Jonesy2, clearly the best? Ranked 3, 4 and 9 in Tests, ODI and 20/20 respectively. Thanks for the laugh though.

Posted by cyclist00752 on (August 31, 2012, 13:51 GMT)

I think South Africa's stay at the no.1 position will also depend a lot on how long Gary Kirsten is their coach (besides the stated fact of De Villiers as keeper and Kallis as all rounder).

Posted by valleypf on (August 31, 2012, 13:31 GMT)

Emancipator007 Just to set the facts straight. Australia became Number 1 in December 95 and stayed so until July 09 except for 3 periods totalling 6 months in 95, 2000 and 2001 when South Africa held top position. The West Indies held No 1 from Mar 81 until Aug 95 except for 3 periods totalling 11 months when Pakistan and Australia replaced them. What makes Australia's domination so complete though are the statistics. On almost every level they surpassed the West Indies and are rightly acknowledged as the greatest Team of all time. Simple things like the fact that at one point the WI didn't lose a series for several years but they didn't win one either. Waugh's Australians achieved far better than that.

Posted by premnauth on (August 31, 2012, 13:21 GMT)

AB is too good a batsman to be used as a wicket keeper should be in the number 4 or 5 slot he can SA Kevin peitersen he got the ability to bully the opposition with smith Amla , Kallis and Ab that's a strong batting line up

Posted by venkatesh018 on (August 31, 2012, 13:10 GMT)

Kallis at present is indeed the most important cog in the S African wheel, giving the team a balance other teams can only dream of. He covers for Imran Tahir's and Morne Morkel's off-days. The last truly great all rounder of the modern game.

Posted by Siva_Cric on (August 31, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

Well written Harsha...Besides having in mind "Kallis's retirement", SA should also look at bringing in a good keeper batsmen in the place of Rudolph which will ease the pressure on AB and should also groom Imran Tahir as he might be found wanting in the sub continent where players are really good at spin. For the near future though I' am sure there is no one even near South Africa!

Posted by Kaze on (August 31, 2012, 12:26 GMT)

This SA side is overrated just like the Indian and English sides before them. They don't pull their weight in all situations. Right now they are riding on the Philander and Amla wave, but that will crash soon. How they go after the wave crashes will determine where they are in the ratings.

Posted by Beertjie on (August 31, 2012, 12:22 GMT)

Enjoyable article, Harsha. @Riderstorm on (August 31 2012, 09:13 AM GMT): yes, Kallis will try to stay around until 2015 WC, but thereafter SA will slide as WI did after Sobers. They do have "talent in abundance", but like Sobers, Kallis is irreplaceable, Steyn, too! So there won't be a prolonged period of pre-eminence - at most 4-5 yrs. SA have done well in India without really good spinners, so they'll continue with this; btw they don't need to defeat India in India to prove that they're a worthy #1.

Posted by southstoke49 on (August 31, 2012, 11:46 GMT)

South Aftrica, England, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and even W Indies are all close enough at the moment that anyone could beat anyone given favourable conditions. Therefore while SA will probably win more than they will lose I don't seem them holding onto the number 1 position much longer than Engalnd or India. Each of these countries tried to predict dynasties but found it harder to stay at the top than to get there. SA undoubtably have a good squad but form and injury all take there toll in the long run and they don't really seem to have a really top spinner for the sub continent.

Posted by Bollo on (August 31, 2012, 11:39 GMT)

@Gaurav Gupta - I think you`re being a little harsh on Oz performances in the sub-continent (particularly if we remember that it consists of more than just India!) - Aus whitewashed SL in SL in 2003/04 and Pakistan in SL/UAE a year or so earlier. They also comprehensively outplayed India in India in 2004/05. India were bowled out in the 4th innings of the 1st test that series for about 240, to lose by over 200 runs. Not sure why you think they were sure things to chase down 230-odd in the 2nd test to win. Anyway, they were bowled out in the 4th innings of the 3rd test by 200, to lose by about 350 runs, to make it all academic. Sure they had some losses, but certainly proved they could play excellent sub-continental teams in their backyard and win. South Africa have have won 1 of their last series 8 there...

Posted by emmersonne on (August 31, 2012, 11:32 GMT)

I think SA are probably the best side in the world at the moment, but they are not far-and-away the best as Australia and the West Indies were before them. I think the number one spot with change hands quite a few times in the next five years. Australia, England, South Africa and the resurgent Pakistan are all sides who can beat each other and lose to each other seemingly in equal measure. I for one look forward to seeing how it all pans out!

Posted by pmuponda on (August 31, 2012, 10:58 GMT)

I would be tempted to work at JP's bowling and make him their spinner. That will then allow them to play to their traditional strength of fast bowlers winning them test matches. AB may have to play as a wicketkeeper batsman for the time being. Their whole success would centre around having a top six that average over 40, four fast bolwers and a no.7 who can be a holding spinner. That would be probabily the way to go even after Kallis.

Posted by jonesy2 on (August 31, 2012, 10:40 GMT)

haha. south africa are competing with england, india and pakistan to see who is the second best team in the world. australia clearly the best and only going to get better and better, obviously. but this was a good laugh to read

Posted by 100_rabh on (August 31, 2012, 10:37 GMT)

Kallis and cameos!!where is the cricket in this suppossedly cricketing piece?

Posted by Hammond on (August 31, 2012, 9:59 GMT)

Don't bet on it............

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 9:39 GMT)

@BillyCC - you made a good point. What you said for WI of 1980-95 is also true for the Aussies of 95-2008. They lost in India in 98,2001 and only won in 2004 - that too because the final day's play was lost in Chennai because of rain. The ratings will never give the complete picture. The Indian team which drew 1-1 in Australia (many felt India were the better team) in 2003-04 and which won in Pakistan was the best Indian Test team I have seen. That bunch was better than the one which became official number one much later - more or less it was the same men but all of them were better players in 2003-04 than they were in 2009-2011.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (August 31, 2012, 9:33 GMT)

Good article. I think SA will keep AB in the W/K role until Quinton De Kock has a bit more experience, as De Kock is a quality batsman. Tsolekile is more like a #9 than a #7, even though some journalists (FM) insist he should be picked now. Tsolekile is almost as old as Kallis so would be a poor choice.

Posted by Riderstorm on (August 31, 2012, 9:13 GMT)

What England lack and SA pride themselves having it are a core group of individuals with the experience of playing around the world with good success. SA, have talent coming through which they need to nurture and use appropriately. England still have to define roles for some of their talented individuals. If england display the same commitment which they did since 2009 to their ascent to No.1, they would be competing head on with SA for the top billing.

Harsha, kallis will be 37 and his fitness is still pretty good, his appetite for runs and most importantly wickets hasn't diminished at all. Finding a replacement for such a guy again would be next to impossible. Anyway, he would be around for another 2 years atleast till 2015 WC, after which they might mould a team with a different approach for which they have talent in abundance. I see no urgency as yet. Immediate urgency would be to find a No.6 and a keeper who can bat.

Posted by lgnandan on (August 31, 2012, 9:07 GMT)

Harsha, I agree with you that South Africa is the only country who could stay at top for a greater time than other countries at present.

Posted by StaalBurgher on (August 31, 2012, 8:52 GMT)

Spot on. Wicket-keeper that can actually maintain an international average above 40 and Kallis' retirement are SA's to biggest issues.

Posted by BellCurve on (August 31, 2012, 8:49 GMT)

There is about a 35% chance that SA will lose the series against Australia later this year. If that happens, Australia will be No1. All it would take is a great innings by Clarke or Ponting, or an inspiring spell by Siddle. But if SA gets over the first hurdle by beating Australia 1-0 or 2-0, then there is a good chance that they will have a long run at the top of the Test cricket playing world.

Posted by Romanticstud on (August 31, 2012, 8:46 GMT)

Unfortunately ... One can only hope that SA reign is more than temporary like in 2009 ... Australia and Pakistan are slowly ascending back up the ladder ... Australia vs South Africa will be a better prospect than England vs South Africa ... If Kohli can covert his ODI form he can slot in Dravid's position and India will be a force again ... Hashim Amla is exceptional ... but he needs to have AB working with him at partnerships just like him and Kallis have done ... 6 Double hundred partnerships, 3 of them treble hundreds ...

Posted by mthi4life on (August 31, 2012, 8:45 GMT)

The top four sides are very close,so I would not be surprised if Australia win their Series against South Africa.They might not be dominant but they are still a good side and they are playing at home.South Africa are the favorites for the first time since readmission.These two side have always been the top two sides since the 90's.

Posted by harshthakor on (August 31, 2012, 8:38 GMT)

Today there is no outstanding champion test team or one day team.They will have to find a replacement for Kallis but what worries me is their past record of faltering after reaching the top.The proteas thoroughly deserved their win in England but have to win in the sub continent to prove themselves.Remember how both India and England faltered so quickly.frankly playing too much cricket is the cause of this.long way still to compare with all time great teams.

Posted by SingaporeProtea on (August 31, 2012, 8:28 GMT)

Great article Harsha!! I think you have summed it up very well and I love your comment on Amla. Brilliantly worded.

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 8:22 GMT)

Agreed. They have far too many top class many whilst everyone else seems to have too few.

Posted by Arpra on (August 31, 2012, 6:56 GMT)

"using faith to imbue yourself with calm and dignity rather than submit to more contemporary interpretations of it"; could that have been put any better?

Posted by Bollo on (August 31, 2012, 6:49 GMT)

I`m not convinced, although SAf`s recent win over Eng confirmed my feeling that they are currently the best team in the world. People tend to forget that it was South Africa who took over from Aus in Aug 2009 at the top of the test rankings. That was also supposed to be the start of a long spell - it lasted for 4 months. India managed 20 months, perhaps longer than many expected. England`s recent reign, during which pundits were claiming they were one of the greatest test sides ever, lasted only 12 months - they seemed to be as dominant as SAf look now, and set for the long haul. Don`t be too quick to predict long spells of dominance seems like fair advice...

Posted by BillyCC on (August 31, 2012, 6:49 GMT)

@Emancipator007, how did the Windies fare in the subcontinent during their period of dominance? Simple answer, not very well. 8 tours to the subcontinent for 2 wins and 6 drawn series between 1980 to 1995. Dominance can mean different things to different people. To me, that record is far from dominant. Too many drawn series for a No.1 side. But does that mean they weren't number 1 for that period? No it doesn't. The Windies were no.1 from 1980 to 1995, just as the Aussies were no.1 from 1995 to 2008.

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 6:47 GMT)

South Africa look the best test side among the others right now but they lack a quality spinner who can trouble world class batsmen. Tahir doesn't look the part.

Posted by ian45 on (August 31, 2012, 6:39 GMT)

@Ahmad, you totally off the mark, Hash has a answer for every delivery, dosent matter if its attacking or defensive, have a look at his wagon wheel, they tried attacking his stumps and it went for runs, the english do not have an answer for him and neither will india or australia in the coming tours, just watch

Posted by Ubaidaleem on (August 31, 2012, 6:37 GMT)

Absolutely Spot on! This is the time when SA should experiment to learn to live without Kallis as player and Smith as Captain. Its easy for young players to gel while on winning ways Harsha you Should also write about India learning to live without Sachin. And Sachin Should retire and leave a great legacy which is fitting to the man himself. He wont achieve any thing more on the Field than he will by leaving the game he honoured playing... I will miss his grandeur on the field but I would hate to hate a man I loved so much over so many years....

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 6:21 GMT)

Wow..Harsha...there is no one else like you......brilliantly described....fully agree...SA will stay on top for quite sometime...Their overseas record is perhaps the best..ofcourse excluding the S Waugh Invincibles....

Posted by dsig3 on (August 31, 2012, 6:20 GMT)

Yeah whatever, I have heard it before about India, England and now SA. I know you need to write articles, but its a bit of fluff. In my mind, England had all the tools to stay at number 1, more tools than SA, they just didnt have the mindset. Thats whats lacking in all these teams. Unrelenting hunger. Lets wait a few years Harsha, shouldnt you be writing puff pieces about India or something?

Posted by pommyadders on (August 31, 2012, 6:15 GMT)

Love Harsha's articles....just like I love his commentary on the ABC when we are privileged to have him here (Oz). I agree that SA look better placed than either England or India to make this No1 position theirs for a while. But cricket can change in a big hurry, 12 months ago England were looking like the best rounded side in the world with all departments covered......far from the case right now. South Africa are going to have a big assessment of their No1 credentials straight off the bat with their series in Australia. I'd certainly rate then as favorites but I also think that Michael Clarkes Australia are significantly better than the Ricky Ponting team that England dealt with so convincingly. Should be a terrific series and by no means a foregone conclusion.

Posted by stormy16 on (August 31, 2012, 5:53 GMT)

I find it hard to see how SA will be challenged for the top spot for a while and the article highlights current players but doenst touch on the fringe players of SA, of which, there are many quailty players. Aus will push them but cant see them beat SA and SA has an amazing record on the sub-continent with both Amla and De Villiers being exceptional players of spin. Also SA is a 'young' team at the top with even Smith still on in his early 30's. For many generations the immortals of cricket were Bradman and Sobers. It will soon be Bradman and Kallis and he is still going and will probably play till the next world cup. He is hardly injured and still bowls consistently while making a ton of runs. He really is already a true legend. The other guy who doesnt get enough credit is Smith - amazingly mainly from his own country! Typical of SA - no fanfare, just get the job done.

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 5:41 GMT)

SA is enjoying added on bonus as Tahir gives them spin option and then there is Gary to giude the team. Batting is very good and pace bowling, well no need to discuss I think, simply great.

Posted by Ind_cric_lover on (August 31, 2012, 5:38 GMT)

Absolutely correct Harsha! When Eng dethroned India last year then I was very disappointed and angry as I thought Eng cannot be the no 1 side in the world(though I had also thought that India were also not worthy of it). But now I am delighted that SA are no 1 because they look like a champion side with plenty of matchwinners and skillful players.

Posted by Emancipator007 on (August 31, 2012, 5:37 GMT)

@Meety,in Ed's piece u got some facts wrong.OZ despite usurping WI in WI'95 never became no 1 then. Uptil beginning of Waugh's 16 Test winning streak, OZ lost 3 Test series against SL,India(albeit 1 one-off in Delhi'96)& drew with WI in'99.Then again lost to India in'01, to Eng in'05.Too many series losses for a no.1. WI NEVER lost a single series b/w 1980-95, coming close only against Pak in WI'88.So WI's reign was SUPREME and u remember seeing them too at their pomp. So technically speaking, OZ reign was b/w1999-07 home series with India (as they lost to India again in'08!).What makes OZ domination seem complete is cos of their high-profile(in today's media era) dominating 3 World Cup wins in same period.One interesting pattern:India always seem to help successor no. 1 Test sides.Walsh's team narrowly drew with India in Oct'94 before OZ won in WI 2-1.Similarly India defeated OZ 2-0 in India'08 before SA beat OZ 2-1 in '08.Also during OZ's real pomp,India V OZ Test record,7 win,7 Loss

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 5:01 GMT)

Harsha, you have hit the nail on the head. AB has to focus on batting and his great fielding skills and give up the gloves. Without even looking at the stats, I know that his batting has suffered. As incredible as he is, Kallis has at most a year, maybe two ahead of him. Kirsten and the brains trust need to figure out the middle order now sooner than later. Coaching and management have to understand that being a great player does not mean that you have to assume a leadership (e.g., captaincy) role. Exceptional talents like AB, and especially Hash and Jacques need to have the freedom to zone themselves in/out to the task at hand without the distractions of captaincy.

Posted by Keepa-batsman on (August 31, 2012, 4:48 GMT)

Quinton De Kock is their next keeper, give him 2 years

Posted by cricketandmore on (August 31, 2012, 4:42 GMT)

harsha.. with all due respects, a mention of Boucher as the third member of the core wouldnt have hurt.. and in the analysis, like all other pedestrian commentators who simply go with the popular sentiment, you have ignored the chink in the armour which is the spin bowling where Imran Tahir has a long way to go.

Posted by Proteas-13thman on (August 31, 2012, 4:32 GMT)

An excellent article. I love the comments about hashim amla. You truelly do express in words what others feel. Great article...:-)

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 3:53 GMT)

Against spinners AMLA & DUMINY are very unidimentional & only look to milk them mainly through sq led & mid wicket as they hardly have any attacking shot against them........................So spinners should bowl slow at them (they r phsically weak players so make them generate pace dont provide them pace to work with) keeping short mid wicket Short sq leg & short extra cover always in place & do away with short fine leg forcing them to either hit sweep which for all money is riskier short than dab to sq leg or slog spinners

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 3:47 GMT)

People need to target Amla's middle & leg stump keeping strong leg side field like Aussies did with Dravid & destroyed him.....Middle stump line is the most attacking line if u keep short mid wicket & short extra cover in place bz it brings lbw bold & could of slightly false short & also thwart a batsman of runs...................Besides Amla capitalizes a lot on playing fine so always keep thir man & fine leg v fine against him..........He si a limited player who can hardly hit a 6 so he can easily be restricted by intelligent negative field placement

Posted by   on (August 31, 2012, 3:45 GMT)

I certainly hope that SA are able to wear this mantle for a while. I do however think that there is more parity in the game today than yester years. Time will tell I suppose. Enjoyed the article.

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Harsha Bhogle Harsha Bhogle is one of the world's leading cricket commentators. Starting off as a chemical engineer and going on to work in advertising before moving into television, he is also a writer, quiz host, television presenter and talk-show host, and a corporate motivational speaker. He was voted Cricinfo readers' "favourite cricket commentator" in a poll in 2008, and one of his proudest possessions is a photograph of a group of spectators in Pakistan holding a banner that said "Harsha Bhogle Fan Club". He has commentated on nearly 100 Tests and more than 400 ODIs.

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