2012 Review

Up where they belong

In 2012, South Africa reaped the fruits of labours dating back to over half a decade

Firdose Moonda

December 31, 2012

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

Faf du Plessis made 19 of 74 balls on the fourth day, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 4th day, November 25, 2012
Faf du Plessis: Adelaide made him © Getty Images

January 1, 2012. South Africa are locked 1-1 in a series against Sri Lanka, having just lost the Boxing Day Test.

December 3, 2012. South Africa's Test programme for the year is complete: Played ten. Lost 0.

The numbers may seem to say it all - except that nine of those ten Tests were contested away from home. It marks South Africa's best period in the longest format, and they have the Test mace to show for it.

As deserved title-holders, South Africa's slow ascendance is proof that there are virtues in patience and planning. Putting together the unit that triumphed has taken more than half a decade, dating back to Sri Lanka 2006. That was the last time South Africa lost a series away from home.

The team that beat England and Australia on the road in 2008 contained some of South Africa's finest, and many survivors from those missions are still part of the Test team. Yet even they lacked what South Africa needed to go from good to great. Gary Kirsten has been credited with introducing the third dimension.

His work-life approach involves non-cricket activities and plenty of time off, and it has taken hold in the Test team. It has yet to extend to the limited-overs sides, which had a forgettable year, with series against Sri Lanka and England narrowly won and drawn*, respectively. It was also disappointing in that they crashed out of the World Twenty20 before the semi-finals.

The main focus was on Test cricket and it showed. After beating Sri Lanka in the New Year Test to avoid a series defeat at home, South Africa went to New Zealand needing to win 3-0 to go top. But for wet weather, they would probably have.

England was always going to be their big chance. The tour was hyped as the series of the year, and it started dramatically with Mark Boucher's horrific, career-ending eye injury. South Africa rallied immediately to win the first Test, in which Hashim Amla became the country's first triple-centurion and Graeme Smith scored a hundred in his 100th match.

The draw at Headingley meant Lord's provided the perfect backdrop for a series win. Amla, JP Duminy and Vernon Philander delivered it. Most importantly South Africa proved they could perform under pressure.

Getting to No. 1 was euphoric but South Africa sobered up with the knowledge that they would have to defend their title in Australia. It was the toughest assignment they could have been set, and until the last day of the Adelaide Test it seemed it would overwhelm them. Then Faf du Plessis and an injured Jacques Kallis put up a rearguard to rival the Battle of Dunkirk. South Africa went to Perth with a massive advantage, having mentally ravaged and physically worn Australian's bowlers down to the point where they needed a completely new attack.

Victory came on the fourth day, and with it the feeling that South Africa are a No. 1 side who have the potential to be able to stay there for longer than their most recent predecessors. Smith called the successive series wins in England and Australia "the proudest achievements of my career".

The start of a golden age, perhaps, but not everything that happened in the year gave CSA that kind of honour. The messy bonus scandal ended when Gerald Majola was dismissed in October, almost three years after the suspension of financial wrongdoing was raised. But CSA's administrative troubles are not over. The Nicholson commission (which recommended Majola be suspended and disciplined) also instructed that a new board be put in place, with more independent directors. The process has been complicated by unhappiness from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, the governing body of sport in the country, over the selection of board members. As a result, CSA's AGM was postponed three times and will now take place before the end of the tax year, in February.

South Africa's Thami Tsolekile heads to practice, The Oval, London, July 17, 2012
The Tsolekile controversy was one South Africa could have done without © Getty Images

Something the suits got right was restoring corporate confidence in the game. After a 2011-12 season that began with no sponsors, CSA now have big-business backing across all formats. They are missing the support of one major establishment, though. The national broadcaster, SABC, decided not to air live Test cricket in the 2012-13 summer, for the first time since readmission, because of the cost of rights fees. Instead, it will only broadcast the limited-overs matches and show highlights packages of the Tests. Almost seven times as many people tune in to Test cricket on the free-to-air broadcaster as on the subscription channel. Now that the country has a Test team worth watching, that majority will not be able to see them in action.

The masses were also denied in a more telling sphere. No black African (the race group that makes up over 80% of the South African population and accounts for more than 40% of active cricketers at all levels, including club and school) took the field in Test cricket in 2012, an issue that was exacerbated by the Thami Tsolekile debacle. The wicketkeeper was contracted in February and told he would play against New Zealand at the end of the year, but the national selectors u-turned on that when AB de Villiers changed his mind about wicketkeeping permanently.

Talk is rife about implementing legislation to change the lack of representation. CSA's acting chief executive, Jacques Faul, indicated the matter would come up for discussion at the board meeting in January. It is a worrying issue because what it really says is that for all South African cricket's progress in the last 12 months, the biggest step it may take is backwards.

High point
South Africa climbed the Test rankings with the determination of a hiker on foot advancing up Table Mountain, and the stubbornness of the same man who, when exhausted, refuses to take the cable car. The resilience paid off. Six years of conquering territory from Australia to the Caribbean finally yielded something tangible. For a side that has constantly been saddled with labels that express underachievement, the view from the top was even more spectacular than they imagined.

Low point
Another year, another ICC event, another South African effort that failed to live up to expectation. The World Twenty20 was Kirsten's first major tournament in charge of the team, but not even he could turn their fortunes around. The strategy of a floating middle order looked more like an attempt to herd cats, and South Africa lost all of their Super Eights matches to return home empty-handed, again. In the aftermath, the T20 squad was completely revamped to add a significant number of young players, and national assistant coach Russell Domingo was put in charge of it.

New kid on the block
Seven years ago, du Plessis was almost lost to South African cricket. He pondered a county offer with a clause that would require him to qualify for England. Something in his conscience held him back. Thank goodness, South Africans will say now. His fighting knocks in Adelaide, which included a century in his first Test, showed his temperament, class and readiness to step up after seasons of trying to break out of being boxed in as a limited-overs player. Less than two weeks after that tour, du Plessis was named stand-in captain of the T20 squad to play New Zealand.

Fading star
To suggest Jacques Kallis is losing his shine would be to say the crown jewels are doing so. Even if the odd blemish appears, a little bit of polish can make them look as though they had never been tarnished at all. Lotions, potions, physiotherapy and rest have all done a mending job for Kallis over the past year, and his performances have not dimmed at all, although he has bowled significantly less than before.

He scored centuries in all of South Africa's series. He also got injured in each. In New Zealand, Kallis suffered a stiff neck and had to miss the third Test; in England he could not bowl during one of the matches because he was rendered immobile by back spasms; and in Australia he suffered a first hamstring injury. That he still has it was best illustrated by his half-century in Adelaide - runs he scored while in pain. Whether his body will continue to let him have it is what will determine the length of the rest of his career.

What 2013 holds
In two words: less travel. After the ongoing New Zealand series, South Africa host Pakistan for three Tests - which they will see as a way to extend their lead on the Test table - five ODIs and two T20s before enjoying an autumn break. The Champions Trophy will present another shot at ICC silverware. It will be followed by a visit to Sri Lanka that has been shortened to exclude any Tests. As a result, South Africa will not play any Test cricket between April and October, but their programme resumes with a trip to the UAE to clash with Pakistan again. The year may feel like it is only starting as it ends when India travel to South Africa in December for another marquee contest.

December 31, 08:12:03 GMT: South Africa did not lose their one-day series in England, they drew it. The error has been amended

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 12:01 GMT)

The Thami Tsolekile 'debacle" is a nonsense argument. The player averages 29 in 136 first class games and 21 in limited overs cricket. Why doesn't the author acknowledge that he would be a very weak #7 in a test side. He only has 4 100's. Q de Kok has played 15 matches and has 4 x 100.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 7:51 GMT)

Yes SA are no.1 but they still seem to lack something after all these years,an attacking spinner,not to forget Paul Harris was good but they need better to win in Asia and the UAE. And what is this about Thami,again CSA is pulled into the colored players quota..Whoever plays well deserves their place and i think that Thami with his recent scores deserves his place.If Abde really has respect for his fellow country men he should let Thami don the gloves..

Posted by teo. on (January 2, 2013, 22:48 GMT)

@Husain Sattar... I hear your comments mate. I see alot of "if" and "would" and "freak performances" in your statements. The truth is, those are all speculative words because the fact of the matter is, SA did not lose, they won. If there are as many 'freak performances' as you describe, then SA seem to have a habit of doing this regularly, making it... normal! :-) I refer you to what Ponting said in his retirement speech... that during the great reign that the old Aus had, there were many teams that put themselves in positions to win against them, but none had the ability to actually take the next step, and actually do so. That's exactly what this SA team did.... fight, and win. Through winning a number of tests inside 3 days, executing teams in their own backyards, and fighting hard when all seems lost, this unit is the first to be truly feared since the Aus of old. I hope other nations rise up to the challenge... :-) keep weel

Posted by AzAb12754 on (January 2, 2013, 15:14 GMT)

England and South Africa are by far the top performing Cricket teams in World Cricket right now, the rest are just weaker then them from all sorts of levels especially in Test Cricket.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2013, 13:51 GMT)

Similarly in Austrailia. They were outplayed, Aus needed a few wickets to win the first test on the last day. Little bit more time, they would have. They then scrape through by the skin of their teeth in the second test, nearly losing it. Faf Du Plessis bats for hours, on debut. Freak perfomance. The third test, they Are bowled out early, then Aus does the same. We then have the freak performance again Hashim Amla, scores nearly a hundred in a session posting a run a ball near 200. So basically, on two days of out of the whole test series, they outplayed Austrailia, and yet its taken as if they were dominant. Is this how the best team in the world plays? Just about nearly beaten till day 2 of the third test in a 3 match series? SA got lucky with some wonderful freak performances, from Hashim Amla, Faf Du Plessis,etc. But for a no 1 team their performances are erratic. They say this is what gary has added to the team. mental toughness. Ya right. His only been in charge for a second.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2013, 13:45 GMT)

This South African team is very good, but overrated in the context of things. World cricket is at a real low, with most teams restructuring. Austrailia, India, New Zealand( clearly from this test) Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, West Inidies, who can really challenge SA? These countries dont even have bowlers to bowl teams out nearly once.

Gary Kirsten took over at a time, when it was easy to beat most countries. The victory in England wasnt as good as it looks. Hashim Amla does something phenomenal in test one. Englands bowlers were tired from previous series, and looked clearly out of sorts. Test two could have been a different story with a bit of luck for England. Pieterson shined. Test three hes dropped, the whole team is in dissarray from the debacle. So what happens? Some freak performances. Duminy and philander make tons of runs, and philander takes wickets. I think if I remember correctly both duminy and philander made nearly two hundred runs collectively in both innnings.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2013, 7:26 GMT)

Oh come on jb633 - not British so we dont understand?

Incidentally SA sent a lot of soldiers to both World Wars including my grandfather who fought (and was captured) in both. WW1 - he was a pilot with the Royal Flying Corp and the 2nd he was an artillery Officer at Tobruk.

I agree its a banal comparison but war and sport both have their gallant heroes and that why they get compared

It isnt such a big deal. I have seen UK sports writers invoking the Battle of Britain occasionally. Many a time I have seen articles equating sport to trench warfare etc.

Posted by jb633 on (January 1, 2013, 12:12 GMT)

@TommyTuckerSaffa- get a sense of history mate. Of course with your nations limited role in major global events you have really very little perspective. Imagine if a British author spoke in terms about the Boer war in comparing atrocities caused on a cricket pitch. Take off the rose tinted specs for a minute. Comparing war and sport is ridiculous. You are not British so you will not understand.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (January 1, 2013, 6:50 GMT)

@jb633 get a grip, my grandfather died tragically in WW2 and im not offended at all by Fidrose comparison. If he was alive he wouldve loved watching that innings by faff and the fact that fidrose made reference to it would have warmed his heart that these parts of our history were being remembered.

Back to the cricket, I am outraged that SA have so few test matches than other top tier teams and this happens every year...why is this????

Posted by jb633 on (January 1, 2013, 2:10 GMT)

Fair enough SA have got to number one but comparing a draw in a test match to the battle of Dunkirk is disgusting. I lost 3 family members in the Battle of Dunkirk and lets just say the author has no sense of history or meaning. This is classic exaggerated journalism and I can't get to grips with it. In the big scheme of things sport has to take it's rightful place, it is after all only entertainment. To compare sport with war and death is disrespectful and non sensical. The troops should always be appreciated for any country they fight for. South Africa are deserving number one, but certainly not comparable with war heroes.

Posted by Shan156 on (December 31, 2012, 17:09 GMT)

While many SA fans have been hailing Amla, and why not, he has been wonderful for the last few years, for a non-SA fan like me, Kallis will truly remain one of the best batsman SA has ever produced. IMO, Kallis and Sobers are the best cricketers the world has ever seen. Kallis has the best batting average of anyone who has scored over 10,000 runs, has 282 wickets @32 and 192 catches. Phenomenal. He still has a few years to go and I hope he scores at least 10 more centuries to finish as the highest ton-getter in tests (although one Mr.SRT will have something to say about it). Interestingly his lowest average is in Bangladesh although he has played only 2 tests there. His average is also relatively lower in England and SL (35 in both countries). I don't know if he will tour these countries again but even if he doesn't, his overall record is still great.

Posted by Cricket_archive on (December 31, 2012, 16:53 GMT)

SA are invincible in test matches.

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (December 31, 2012, 14:21 GMT)

No question that South Africa are the best side of the moment. Despite the lack of a credible spin option the attack bowls out sides in all conditions and the batsmen get runs to defend. The truest test though is the fact that a weaker side mentally could easily have lost two of the Tests in England and the 2nd Test in Australia, but they did not... South Africa are now hanging in there when some of their precedesors would have let the game slip away. I suspect that their reign as #1 may not last long, but they have surprised us before.

Posted by THE_MIZ on (December 31, 2012, 11:07 GMT)

The trend on these threads about South Africa seems to be regarding the question of their supposedly ageing squad. Whether they have talented replacements. I think the last team that should worry about depth is South Africa. There are so many talented players in the domestic scene. The fact that England, New Zealand continue to 'import' players proves both the strength, competitiveness here. Some names to look out for: Chris Morris: Fast Bowler and Big hitting all-rounder (Future star) De Lange: Very Fast (currently injured though) Hardus Viljoen: Medium Fast Bowler Obus Pienaar: Allrounder Average with Bat 40 and with ball 23 Yaseen Vallie &Stiaan Van Zyl: Batsmen Quinton De Kock The only worry is the traditionally weak spin department. Kallis can never be replaced. People should stop saying SA will go down without him because few great teams have had an all-rounder of his calibre

Posted by mahjut on (December 31, 2012, 10:52 GMT)

i have said it already that AB as wk offers best balance - Thami would be a like for like replacement for Bouch (who did not provide that balance it must be said)...also, with Kallis coming to the end of his career balance is vital in order to compensate. At the moment, without Kallis, SA is actually a young side with a strong allround base ... Smith, Peterson, Amla, AB, Faf, JP, Peterson(less likely -Phangiso), Vern, MM and Dale! Even this team can accomodate a 'trial' player between 4 and 7! Having said that, I think AB's handling of himself has shown him up to be a bit self-indulgent, unthoughtful and unfair which is a shame - i hope he can rectify the image. Thami could get a batting slot based on his FC batting in 2012 - and should. Still, all in all a pretty good year for those of us who support SA [Test] cricket. Good luck in 2013 fellas

Posted by JG2704 on (December 31, 2012, 10:44 GMT)

@LillianThomson on (December 31 2012, 08:39 AM GMT) Imagine the tone in Edgie's comms if SA were not number one - talk about hissy fits. Re SA - 2 things I'll pick up on.

1- AB - could it be that WK didn't affect his batting and that he was just coming into a bad run of form? The reason I say this is that up to that point in ODIs - and I know it's a different format - his batting average while keeping wicket was excellent.

2- Re the spinner issue , I just wonder if they've gone with the wrong man rather than have no quality spinners

Posted by THE_MIZ on (December 31, 2012, 10:28 GMT)

I don't agree that South Africa's bowling attack has been on the wane as some here have suggested. All three are ranked in the top 10 which means that they were consistently good this year!

If one really analyses their performances this year, you would have noticed that no one particularly stood out but Morkel,Philander, Steyn spread the wickets between them. This has caused their averages to move closer towards 30 , which is still pretty good considering that there aren't any attacks in the world possess all averages under 30. Also the fact that England, Aus, New Zealand all produced flat tracks to try to neturalise SA also result in the unusual results. The quick track employed in the third test exposed the Aussies proving once again SA's quality.

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

Maybe they hope that Phangiso will solve the current reace equity problem. It is very easy to shout "racism" about the Tsolikile issue, but South Africa has had an interesting history - life isn't fair, Tsolikile. rightly or wrongly, was led to believe that he would play.

It seems that de Villiers's change of heart has totally changed Cricket SA's future planning. If he has taken himself out of the captaincy mis (hip hip hooray!!) then who? So far it seems he has managed to get rid of our best short form captain (Johan Botha - check the stats), now he is too overworked to do the job for which he was originally annointed.

Posted by kcr_ on (December 31, 2012, 9:12 GMT)

yes jonesy, I agree with you. ozz should be number one, 'cause they have a great vice-captain, their top order issues are sorted, they have 'fast' bowlers who can bowl for days and almost take 20 wickets at home, and have the best spinner in the world. And they have just beaten the mighty Lankans. wow

Posted by tokoloshe on (December 31, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

Jonesy2, you twit..... who should be there then? We justr beat Oz in Oz and Eng in Eng. What more do you wanbt the #1 team to do?

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 31, 2012, 8:39 GMT)

@ Edgie Chill out. I'm on this page because I've been a well-wisher of South African cricket ever since Tony Greig was my first sporting hero and I watched Mike Procter terrorise my adopted English county. And I've had plenty to say about the people ruining NZ cricket on our own Cricinfo pages!

And living in Australia, I get to see more of SA's home Tests than Australia or NZ's, because the timezone means I can get home from work and watch every ball, every day.

Cricket is a sport with only eight decent national teams. It's easy to know them all intimately. You can be one-eyed and jingoistic like @jonesy2, but most of us on Cricinfo love the game much more than our erstwhile national team.

I certainly do, given that as a man in my mid-forties my current favourite cricketers are Amla, De Villiers, Kallis, Panesar, Pujara, Junaid, Younis, Sangakkara, Mitchell Johnson and Jesse Ryder. That's a pretty broad church to worship at!

Posted by   on (December 31, 2012, 8:29 GMT)

Well done for a good year.

But alas some of the usual drivel is being posted here by the usual suspects.

@justout, good points there

Posted by Akhter786 on (December 31, 2012, 8:19 GMT)

yes south Africs has the potential to be there for sometime now but it is an ageing team, and where are the spinners, Where is the replacement for Kallis, Australia is fast assembling a formidable team again and England have put behind the controversies and overconfidence,

It is an interesting year ahead and for SA an easy one too but it is like" The higher u go the cooler it is" for South Africa.

also noblack player addition means something is still fishy down the line there!

i hope n pray that South Africa finally show it to the world that they are nomore chokers and underachievers,

Faff was the most standout among many goodthings for South Africa this year as was Amla's glorious triple


Posted by Cricinfo-Editorial on (December 31, 2012, 8:16 GMT)

South Africa did draw the one-day series in England, they didn't lose it. chilled_avenger, thanks for pointing out the error. It's now fixed

Posted by Neuen on (December 31, 2012, 8:06 GMT)

I really enjoyed the article until the race issue was brought into it. Where does the author get that stats from? SA choose players from the domestic league not from imade up numbers. Even Tsolikele wasn't the 2nd best keeper. He was chosen due to reverse racism.

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 31, 2012, 8:06 GMT)

The wicket-keeper issue provides South African cricket with the biggest dilemma of modern times.

On the one hand, De Villiers offers a short-term reinforcement of the batting which makes them very hard to beat. And if he does the role for two years there is then a successor in the form of Quinton de Kock who carries the potential to become the best batsman-keeper of all - even Gilchrist - if he continues to develop.

But South African cricket cannot unlock its full potential unless the African population is engaged, and in Thami Tsolekile there is the most credible black player to be part of the team now.

I understand the argument for De Villiers to keep wicket, but really there is a responsibility to have Tsolekile doing it.

After all, even the great team of the late sixties was well short of the potential it would have had if the likes of Dolly could have played.

It's about to be 2013. It's not okay to have an inferior glovesman keeping a black keeper out of the side.

Posted by edgie on (December 31, 2012, 7:51 GMT)

aggree chilled, Firdose needs to check her facts. I also remember they did'nt loose that series, infact they have not lost ANY type of series abroad, except for the T20 world cup. And Jonesy2, if no 1 is not at the top, then nothing is is, but beign from down under whcih i remember you r, i can understand, maybe u and Lillian should swap stories...

Posted by edgie on (December 31, 2012, 7:47 GMT)

@Liliian, a kiwi, bloody hell, not surprised though.You therefore have ZERO knowledge of the proteas to give such a scathing review of them. Me thinks you should be scathing about ur own team, and focus on why ur best batsman is not travelling to tackle the no 1 test team and a head coach who doesn't put the team first. And what about your pathetic excuse for a national board and your growing list of SA exports as well (whihc clearly shows that South Africa are even able to produce cricketers for other countries...). Seriosuly Lillian, look at home before you look to offer reviews abroad. because clearly u r in denial.

Posted by edgie on (December 31, 2012, 7:32 GMT)

@Lillian, give it a break, u don't know ANYTHING, leave your pathetic attempt at trying to degrade the massive work the proteas have done at the door please...

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

Looking forward to the Pakistan matches, will be great cricket on display. I would hardly call the india tour "marquee", SA would have more problems against Bangla or Zim.

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 31, 2012, 5:57 GMT)

Although I'm a Kiwi, I'm looking forward much more to Pakistan's tour than New Zealand's.

I do think that NZ could have been difficult to beat if they'd had their best 2 batsmen (Taylor, Ryder) and best 2 bowlers (Southee, Vettori). But without them they are Zimbabwe-strength.

The Pakistan tour is interesting because of the potential of their attack. Junaid Khan is now where Wasim Akram was in around 1987, where I remember ITV's Oracle talking of his "mighty promise". Ajmal is the best spinner in the world, Umar Gul is a willing workhorse and Mohammed Irfan is 6 inches taller than Ambrose or Garner!

Sadly, Pakistan took a similar attack to England in 2010 but axed Younis and Yousuf, and were hammered due to inept batting. Their batting this time looks suspect too, more so because they are playing no first-class matches in SA before the Tests.

I hope that it is a decent series, to keep Test cricket healthy - sadly the NZ one is just going to be a procession.

Posted by jonesy2 on (December 31, 2012, 5:45 GMT)

the title is just laughable. up where they belong? give me a break

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 31, 2012, 5:32 GMT)

A good year, but India, England and now South Africa have each reached the Number 1 test ranking by standing still while other teams went into transition and fell away.

Only Zimbabwe is as badly-off for spinners as South Africa, so of course England, New Zealand and Australia were the ideal places to tour without having Tahir or Petersen exposed.

I showed on a different thread the large totals which SA conceded throughout their tours of England and Australia, with the exception of Perth. With Steyn's speed falling to 135K but his average rising to 30 runs per wicket there is a long slog ahead. Especially as Philander too averaged 30 in England and Australia, and only took 16 wickets in 5 Tests there.

And transformation is important. Why compromise De Villiers' batting by using him as the keeper when they could have used Tsolekile and carried on taking cricket to the African masses? Do you think SABC would have axed coverage if there was a black role model in the team?

Posted by JustOUT on (December 31, 2012, 3:57 GMT)

Very good year for SA. Hope it continues for next 2 years with most of the Test series being played at home. Also, they should start grooming some youngsters to replace Kallis when he retires. Of course it will take time, but sure kids will come along and play like Amla is doing now. Ppl wrote Amla off some 4 yrs back.

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