Pakistan v South Africa 2013-14 October 27, 2013

South Africa pass test of character

The manner in which South Africa responded to the Test defeat in Abu Dhabi has shown that the unit has character, and gave them fresh options going ahead

The number of times members of the South African squad talk about "character" is enough to cast a series of movies. They have a full range. Tough characters, hard-working characters, and in the words of Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers, great characters as well.

Film heroes usually follow a fairly predictable script. They start off as likable but naive with big dreams, then they face what seems insurmountable obstacles along the way, then they develop by overcoming those, and in the end they triumph. The South African squad have already been through this cycle many times before.

But the thing about cycles is that they have no end. So, even when one has remained in the same position for some time, at some point the journey starts again. South Africa were reminded of that when they lost in Abu Dhabi. It was their first Test defeat since December 2011, and their first away from home in more than three years. It was also one of their worst defeats - perhaps not in terms of numbers - but because of the manner in which they were beaten.

The Pakistan attack out-thought them, and their own bowlers were not up to the task to operate as shrewdly. It was a defeat which highlighted how serious lack of preparation can be, and it made some believe they would suffer the same fate as the previous No.1 side, England, did in conditions that have become a new final frontier for Test cricket. But for those who have kept a close eye on them since they began ascending the rankings about three years ago, it was not a defeat which ruled them out of the series.

South Africa are simply too good a side to not learn from their mistakes and be able to rectify them quickly. By the second innings in Abu Dhabi, they were already hitting better lengths, and by the time Dubai came, the bowlers had found top gear again. The hastiness and poor shot selection that affected their batsmen in the first match was removed from their game in the second with a display of better temperament, patience and resilience. With the errors erased, they dominated again.

That takes talent, but it also takes character, which only grows stronger with every success. To build character from a failing is an even better achievement and one South Africa have not had to deal with much in the recent past. They have won six series on the trot before this one so the sting of defeat was a faded memory for all but one player who hit a personal low in the time South Africa were on the up.

Imran Tahir is the only member of the Test squad to have been dropped and recalled in the last year. The way he performed in Adelaide last November could have ruled any cricketer out of the game, much less the international circuit, because it tore apart his reputation. But Tahir was managed in a way that allowed him to believe his career was not over. He was cocooned in what his franchise coach, Geoffrey Toyana, told ESPNcricinfo was nothing more complicated than "love" and coaxed him back to form.

When he was recalled to replace Robin Peterson, it was because South Africa knew they needed a more penetrative spinner, given the conditions. The expectation was on him to perform and provide the impact he had been searching for in his previous 11 showings. He also wanted to be Smith's go-to man. On the first surface Tahir has played on that has offered something, he delivered, finding turn and bounce, and using his googly to good effect.

His five-wicket return in the first innings, and the overall match haul of eight scalps, proved he has a future on the biggest stage. In turn repaying the faith South Africa have showed in him. "It was great to see him bowl so well," Smith said. "He showed immense character to bounce back, and it showed we have a group of players that can respond. We all enjoyed his success. It was a testament to him as a person."

It also gives South Africa another option going forward as they juggle between Peterson and him. Peterson will ultimately be tasked with doing a holding job, while Tahir will perhaps be saved for the subcontinent when they require an attacking bowler. That could be the biggest gain South Africa will make from this trip because they now know Tahir is someone they can turn to, rather than being a continued gamble.

They would never have been able to glean that had they not lost in Abu Dhabi and felt forced to make a change for what became a must-win game in Dubai. That it happened and they responded by making the right selection instead of sticking with Peterson as a sentimental choice is proof of the development of their character as a unit.

They did not finish with the happily ever after tag they may have wanted in terms of a series win, but they've definitely posted an interesting 'to be continued' for when the next tour to Asia, in India, occurs in two years' time.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 30, 2013, 8:00 GMT

    People must realize it that teams from Australia, England and South Africa have performed much better on the whole in the sub continent than teams from the sub continent have in Australia, England and South Africa. It is noy my opinion its fact.

    These comments always amuses me

  • Philip on October 29, 2013, 13:19 GMT

    well written article about the best side in the world... they will remain the best for at least two more years. MARK MY WORDS!!!

  • N on October 29, 2013, 12:10 GMT

    @ Greatest Game: Arqam Kham is right, the hapless Imran Tahir will be taken to the cleaners by Indian batsmen who, true to their pedigree, are absolute masters of playing spin (just ask a certain Mr. Warne). Murali, Saeed Ajmal, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath, Shahid Afridi, Nathan Lyon are just some examples of high class spinners who have been negotiated well by capable Indian batsmen.

    With regards to the current series against the Aussies, India have played exceedingly well and have even posted a record 360 for 1 in 43 overs just a week ago and unfortunately, have been robbed of 2 wins by absolutely terrible weather in the Eastern parts caused due to Cyclone Phailin. With two games still to go, India can be expected to win the ongoing series. They are of course the #1 ranked side.

    Contrast this with where South Africa are in ODIs (the only format that most Asians really care about). Have you forgotten India's resounding victory over the Africans in the Champions Trophy in England?

  • Dummy4 on October 29, 2013, 6:51 GMT

    He was shining the ball on his trousers. there was nothing wrong with the ball but the umpires felt obligated to change it after the 3rd official told them to check it. The outcome of the hearing the officials stated that it was accidental with no malice intended. The ball was changed immediately when it happened. Wickets up to that point was taken with the new ball. Now explain to me how did the 'ball tampering' impact on the game when not 1 delivery was sent down with the tampered ball. Pakistan was not good enough and the only reason they won the first test is because of SA not playing for such a long time and not picking Tahir in the first test. Pakistan team is weak.

  • David on October 29, 2013, 2:52 GMT

    @ Fami Khan wrote " Remember 1 thing... In ODI,s & T20 Afridi will be there who can Hit any Bowler in the world."

    Unfortunately Afridi has proved, time & time again, that although he can hit any bowler in the world,, he is much much much likely to MISS EVERY bowler in the world. His ODI ave is 23.51 - pathetic - & his T20 ave 18.05 - that's schoolboy stuff.

  • David on October 29, 2013, 2:42 GMT

    @ Arqam Khan thinks that Tahir will struggle against India. Well, that will not happen in the upcoming series, Arqam Khan. The very ordinary Indian batsmen, who wilt against true pace, will be lucky if they get to see any spin bowling - the pace will get them first. India are even losing, at home, to Australia. Ouch - that must hurt.

  • David on October 29, 2013, 2:23 GMT

    @ umairasgharbutt wrote "test of character?? are you sure, what about ball tampering?"

    According to the match referee, there was no ball tampering, and du Plessis did not admit to any ball tampering. The match referee's statement was: "After discussions with Mr du Plessis, he has elected not to contest that charge, but I am also satisfied that this was not part of a deliberate and/or prolonged attempt to unfairly manipulate the condition of the ball." Is there any part of that you do not understand? If so I will be more than willing to help explain the meaning of "not part of a deliberate and/or prolonged attempt to unfairly manipulate the condition of the ball." That means no ball tampering. Simple - that IS what it means.

  • Afaq on October 29, 2013, 2:03 GMT

    Moonda which character your are talking about. Ball tempering character. Now empires have to watch SA player with eagle eye, what they are doing. If Pakistani players doing something wrong, whole world media creat a big issue. When SA players doing something wrong media not even paying attention and saying SA pass test of character.It makes sense ?

  • David on October 29, 2013, 2:00 GMT

    @ SamRoy.Your analysis of the current SA team is, in my opinion at least, excellent. Alviro Petersen has played some great innings, but not enough to match the calibre of the rest of the top 5. He just does not protect the middle order. If SA continue to rely on their dominant pace attack, they will face spinning tracks wherever they go. It is a very simple equation!

    I have no idea why SA are simply waiting for a spinner to appear from somewhere. Over the last 10 years they should have put a lot of focus in seeking out and training prospective test level spinners, finding & sending youngsters to train in the sub-continent. There is no spin bowling culture in SA, & they need to build one. It amazes me because SA had some great spinners in the past - Hugh Tayfield was a genuine all-time spin great!

    Again - you have produced a very astute analysis of the Proteas.

  • Afsar on October 28, 2013, 22:25 GMT

    Moonda - SA lost respect from all cricket fans after the ball tampering, seems like whole team is backing FAF for his action. 2nd Test is popular for not smith's 200 or ABD's lucky 100 or Tahir's 5 for spell. It will be remmbered as Ball tampered test down the line. its sad but fact.