Pakistan v South Africa, 2nd Test, Dubai, 4th day October 26, 2013

Smith lauds South Africa's 'immense' record

It took a little longer than appear likely at one stage, but South Africa's comfortably victory extends a formidable overseas sequence which vindicates their No. 1 status

Before Graeme Smith went in for ankle surgery in May, the doctor gave him a worrying warning. "If this doesn't work, I don't know what I am going to do," he said to the South African captain.

Smith had suffered an ankle impingement in April last year, which ruled him out of the IPL, and had chronic ankle pain for a period of time before that. He had an operation last year before South Africa's tour of England but this year needed another - one he refers to as "major," - because the problem had not been entirely solved. The recent one, which meant he had cut short his first season with Surrey, involved putting two pins into his heel to correct a stress fracture and would keep him out of the game for six months, much longer than the ten weeks he had on the sidelines 2012.

"I had a lot of time to reflect on my career and I wondered if there would be more," he said. Smith didn't have to explain his fear that he thought there was a chance he may not take the field again because it was obvious from the pride he took in his own performance.

"I worked really hard to get to where I am now. To have come back and scored a double hundred in these conditions - almost sub-continental and with the heat - is something I will never forget. I am proud of it. I will cherish this innings for the rest of my life."

His 234 was the biggest individual difference between South Africa and Pakistan in Dubai and it was as much a personal achievement as it was a team feat. Without Smith's innings, a canvas painted by hard grind rather than attractive strokeplay, South Africa would not have had the platform from which it did not matter that their lower-order collapsed. Without his knock, they could have lost the match and their record run on the road could have ended.

Cricketers often claim numbers don't matter to them until they've called it a day but there are two that mean a great to deal to South Africa right now. The No.1 ranking is the first of them. They would not have lost it had they been defeated 2-0 in this series but their lead would have been substantially cut. Their unbeaten away streak since 2006 is the other because it explains, without needing to use too many words, why they are the top-ranked Test team.

South Africa have not won a series in the subcontinent, apart from victories in Bangladesh, since beating Pakistan in 2007 but they have drawn in India and now, in the UAE. That speaks about their ability to "find a way," as Smith likes to put it to win in conditions they are unaccustomed to and which are intended to work against them.

I don't think many teams in the current set-up can travel as well as we do and be able to perform in the different environments and under the different pressures. I don't think the team gets enough credit for that. It's an immense record
Graeme Smith on South Africa away from home

It illustrates what Smith and AB de Villiers' innings showed: how to construct scores on pitches which take turn, outfields which are slow and bowlers who know how to exploit the conditions with movement and spin. But on the fourth day of this match, it was their bowlers' ability which was highlighted.

Despite being kept in the field for much longer than they expected, the attack barely strayed from their plans. They were disciplined in length, using the short ball as a threat rather than a regulation delivery, and understanding the need to pitch it up. Even when Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq looked as though they would bat out the day, the bowlers did not panic and held their control.

Part-time left-arm spinner Dean Elgar took advantage of a lapse in concentration from Misbah and then South Africa knew it was just a matter of time. They finished Pakistan off before the end of the day to extend their record of adaptability to include the UAE.

"Once they got in and the ball got soft, it became difficult," Smith admitted. "We controlled the run-rate and they were never scoring at more than 2.5 to the over and we knew if we kept doing that, there was going to be one opportunity and Dean got that one opportunity."

They have now gone 12 series without being beaten away from home and Smith thinks that has the makings of the start of a legacy similar to the Australia and West India sides of old. "I don't want to be throwing that label around to the public just yet, I think we still have a long way to go but I don't think many teams in the current set-up can travel as well as we do and be able to perform in the different environments and under the different pressures," he said.

"I don't think the team gets enough credit for that. It's an immense record and we are very proud of it. We want to go on and win more series, dominate, we want to play good cricket set a standard and we are on the right path."

How South Africa have managed to win away from home is, according to Smith, down mostly to experience. "Part of playing away from home is finding a way to morph in those conditions," he said. "We have a great understanding of that and how to work our way into conditions."

That was why, unlike his surgeon, Smith never got to the point where he did not know what would work. At 1-0 down in the series, South Africa were confident of coming back. And despite Pakistan batting fluently with six wickets in hand, Smith had no doubt his bowlers would complete the job.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Billy on October 30, 2013, 11:35 GMT

    @Keith Waters, yes I agree with that and who knows, in three or four years time, this side could rival the other two. Until then, it is premature simply because they haven't spent enough time at the top compared to the other two. Note though that I believe the rankings system does reward improved results compared to previous series. Therefore, South Africa will be rewarded handsomely if they win future series that they have drawn in the past. So that is when they can enjoy a long time at the top. They couldn't manage to better the result against Pakistan, but India and Australia await and series wins should make the gap between them and England wider.

  • Dummy4 on October 30, 2013, 10:32 GMT

    @ BillyCC thats the point SA longest run without defeat is the one they are currently on there are only 3 teams who have ahcieved the same length or more than the current SA team so you can only compare them with where they are. Admittedly comparing them doesnt mean they are better but its not stupidity to compare with whats similar. There is still a long way to go untill they are considered great but to dismiss them so lightly when Team like the Windies drew four series on the trott (and 30% of their series in total) they didnt win in the subcontinent for 12 years but to expect SA to win more and to achieve something they didnt is unjustified

  • Billy on October 30, 2013, 8:51 GMT

    @Keith Waters, happy for you to bath in glory/denial. I'm only stating facts, there are no opinions (jealous or otherwise). In reality, I like this South African team and they could be something special. The facts though are these: they have only been number one for just over a year. I actually think the rankings have some flaws and they should have gotten their sooner but they rightly penalise drawn series. Being unbeaten is great, but they have paid the penalty for drawn series particularly at home. The other fact is that the Australians and the West Indies were on top of the rankings consistently over a period of 10 years and 15 years respectively. So the gap is quite compelling. Regarding my original numbers, if you wanted a span of 24 series, then sure you would be right. I was just commenting that they had a great run of 18 consecutive series. History will show they fell away after that but at the time, most said that it was a great side (Aussies were a little better that's all)

  • Billy on October 30, 2013, 8:35 GMT

    @Greatest_Game, agree with most of your analysis. We'll wait and see how AB progresses. Dismissals per innings will hide the fact that Flower played for a weaker bowling unit and Murali took a decent chunk of the wickets, and caught behind is not exactly a common dismissal for Murali and stumpings also not common.

  • Dummy4 on October 30, 2013, 2:52 GMT

    Sorry BillyCC not sure what you mean the SA team from 1 Jan 1998 to 01 Jan 2004 played 24 series lost 5 drew 3 won 16 hardly a comparable record at all - there are only 4 teams with as many or more consequtive series without a loss than this current SA team - - The fact that you deny that this SA team had currently achieved what very few have shows your bias and yes The west indies and aussie teams may or may not be better, but all you can go on is the record and considering this SA teams record is only just behind theres is testamont to how good this saffa team is - like I have pointed out before the West Indies have not won in the sub continent since 1983/84 so to call their team great and this SA team not is blinkered to say the least. However, I really not bothered by what other teams have achieved and am happy to be a saffa fan everyone else can wallow in their own jealousy and I'll be happy bathing in our glory lol

  • Billy on October 29, 2013, 17:45 GMT

    @Keith Waters, actually the last team to have a comparable record to this South African team was the South African team from 1998 to 2003/04. 18 test series, 2 defeats (back-to-back series against Australia), 2 draws, but they did win in the subcontinent. That was a team with a young Kallis, Donald and Pollock as a bowling all rounder. It was a pretty good side, but the Australians had the better record. This South African side actually had the better series win ratio, but just happened to lose twice to the greatest or the second greatest team of all time. I would say people have rather short memories instead of nostalgia tainting judgment. As I said, when we judge the greatest, not being beaten only means something when you've won against those sides previously away from home. Until then, I would say the current side is a very good side, just as the 1998-2004 side was a very good side.

  • David on October 29, 2013, 16:23 GMT

    The keeper-batsmen debate is tough: both batting AND keeping stats must be considered. Batting stats we all know. Keeping stats few even know exist!

    Stats for keepers are MD, or Most Dismissals in an innings , & D/I, or Dismissals per Innings. D/I is a keeper's ave: the ave no. of batsmen he dismissed per innings.


    Gilchrist: D/I - 2.178. MD - 5. Gilchrist: Bat ave - 46.70.

    AB dV - D/I - 2.033. MD - 6. AB dV - bat 51.55: bat ave AS KEEPER -56.17

    Kumar Sangakkara D/I - 1.6: MD - 5. Bat ave - 56.98: bat ave AS KEEPER - 40.48

    Gilly vs AN dV. Gilly gets 0.145 more dismissals per inns: AB gets 9.53 more runs. But, BEFORE the Pak series, AB's D/I was 2.115, & ave as keeper was 50.95! It takes a while to build a D/I & bat ave as keeper that are a true reflection of a career.

    AB needs another 30 tests for any real comparison. Till then, Gilly has the title. I have been through the records: Gilly & AB as KEEPERS & BATSMEN have records that surpass all the rest.

  • Dummy4 on October 29, 2013, 13:31 GMT

    @BillyCC you are judging the West Indies team and Aussie team after they have finished there careers and people you are judging the SA team on how they are now and nostalgia is a very good tainter of judges

    However one important question that needs answering is currently SA are 13 series without Defeat they havent been beaten since 2008/2009 and have only lost one series since 2006 now if you can name the last two teams to have a record comparable/better to this you might understand why people are comparing this SA team to the great West Indies and Aussies teams of yesteryear. I'll give you a clue one comes from a group of islands in the Carribean and the other comes from an Island off the shores of New Zealand

  • Tumi on October 29, 2013, 12:28 GMT

    Sorry for the mistake,nonetheless AB batting at 5 as a keeper in tests and averaging 56 in 16 tests is impeccable as he has established himself as one of the best batsman in the world while keeping,even in odi's. Yes Sanga batted at 3 while keeping but he also batted in batting friendly conditions while doing so and as you pointed out averaged 40. I agree that calling AB the grestest keeper batsman is premature but he's a very good keeper batsman considering he is a specialist .

  • Blessing on October 29, 2013, 11:14 GMT

    @BillyCC -You clearly must be joking AB is a much better wk/batsmen than both Flower and Sanga (look at their records in both test and ODI cricket). If you had said Gilchrist only then would I have considered your comment to be of note.

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