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October 12, 2007
So to do so in Pakistan, in such convincing fashion, understandably brought a grin to Graeme Smith's face. Not even a draw today, a situation in which they were favourites, could wipe it. Mind you, the grin hasn't strayed far from his face through much of the tour so far and why should it?
"I was saying to the boys after play that on the flight over, if someone had said to me we'd probably control nine days out of ten, I wouldn't have believed him," Smith admitted. "The style of cricket we played, the way we executed our plans, the way we have been able to put Pakistan under pressure has been surprising and very exciting for our future in Tests.
"If anything the wicket got a little slower as the game went on, which made getting wickets tougher. When you play as well as we have there comes a time in the day's play when you cut your losses and secure the win. We did what we had to do. In a two-Test series to win 1-0, that's a fantastic effort."
Jacques Kallis did more fantastically than most to bring about the result. Three centuries, over 400 runs and an average of 210.5 are typically Kallis-ian series figures, but in the subcontinent, they take on extra significance. Key wickets and a stunning slip catch or two made the Man-of-the-Series award the most predictable since 'Titanic' swept the Oscars.
"As a series win it's right up there," said Kallis. "It's never easy touring here and beating a subcontinent side. I certainly haven't done it too many times. So as far as toughness of series is concerned, it's right up there."
As a series win it's right up there. It's never easy
touring here and beating a subcontinent side
Man of the Series, Jacques Kallis
Kallis's role in neutralising Pakistan's spinners was vital too. Though Danish Kaneria and Abdur Rehman took 21 wickets between them, they came at such cost and interval, so as to be ultimately irrelevant. "I think consistently, in our home series against Pakistan and India last year on turning wickets, we played spin well and we played it well here," Smith said. "We surprised a few people with the way we played."
Monumental as Kallis was, South Africa had many heroes. Most of the top-order scored some runs, including - to much relief no doubt - Smith himself. Andre Nel and Dale Steyn made up for a strangely out-of-sync Makhaya Ntini, and then there was Paul Harris.
Has there been a series performance as promising as this by a South African spinner in recent years? Not many people would have put money on Harris ending up leading wicket-taker in the series ahead of Pakistan's own spinners, but 12 wickets and an economy-rate under two runs an over were crucial.
"Harris is a huge plus," said Smith. "Not only has he picked up wickets but he has allowed us control and allowed us to experiment with one or two things at the other end, to take a couple of risks. He joined the team last year and this, on his first subcontinent trip, is a huge plus for us.
"Obviously there have been some fantastic individual performances but as a whole our team has performed very well, stood solid, strong. Everyone knew their role and performed it very well throughout."
Only the ODIs remain in Pakistan now, but South Africa have passed the first tough test of a tough season. Celebrations tonight, but work begins again on Monday. "Tonight we are going to enjoy the Test series. We have a few tough challenges this year. Pakistan was our first. India, England and Australia are still to come, but we have achieved our first target." In fine style too.