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This was more like the South Africa who dominated world cricket through 2008 and rose to the top of the tree
January 17, 2010
The South Africans will feel justice has been done. Such was the dominance of their display at the Wanderers that it's impossible to deny that they fully deserved a share of the spoils. They believed that coming into the final Test, but the pressure was on them to deliver a performance after twice pulling up agonisingly short. This time they left nothing to chance and there was nothing close about the result.
This was more like the South Africa who dominated world cricket through 2008 and rose to the top of the tree before disappearing over the last 12 months. They were so motivated for this contest - they couldn't really believe how the visitors held the advantage heading into the final Test - and that made them an unstoppable force. England played their worst game since the thrashing against Australia, at Headingley, but they were never allowed into the match.
Over the last four days the hosts have shown a ruthlessness that isn't often associated with their cricket, typified by the positive batting approach and their fourth-morning demolition of England's second innings. This time they weren't going to leave anything to chance, especially with thunderstorms looming each day.
"If we are honest we could easily be sat here 3-1 up," Graeme Smith said. "We've played the better cricket in three out of four games. It could have been easy for us to run out of puff after giving so much in Cape Town, but we bounced back and each guy was hungry to perform well.
"We lacked knock-out blows in Centurion and Cape Town - England showed great resilience throughout the series and played well at Durban - but it was great for us to be able to play such convincing cricket here. We really dominated the game and came out deserved winners of the Test."
After three matches in which South Africa felt certain things hadn't gone their way - from weather conditions, to pitches, to injuries - they couldn't really have produced a more perfect match. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were outstanding attack leaders, Smith led from the front with the bat and was followed by Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Mark Boucher, then the bowlers did their job a second time. Even the two debutants, Wayne Parnell and Ryan McLaren, played their part with Parnell claiming the key second-innings scalps of Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen.
"I'm just really proud of the way the guys played," he added. "We had two debutants who put in solid performances. We certainly were the team who were hungrier going into this game and we played that way. It shows this team wants to progress and within the group there is a real drive to be better."
Smith didn't try to hide the fact that he thought England had aided their own downfall in the way they handled the review system. Smith, himself, was at the centre of the main controversy over his 'edge' on the second morning, but he said the visitors allowed it to get into their mindset and South Africa were pleased to take advantage.
"It's something that has made us happy," Smith said. "We feel that England spent so much time and energy on that stuff that it really allowed us to focus on our cricket. To see them really lose focus on what was important gave us more confidence through the game."
The series has grown increasingly antagonistic on the field although Smith said he hoped to share a beer with the England team. "It's something I'd like to do." Indeed the players did spend a couple of hours together after the formalities were complete.
However, when pushed on where England stand in the current world game, he gave them a cautious rating based on their "potential", and made a pointed dig at their selection for this match by picking Graham Onions as their best seamer.
"England have come here and played well throughout the summer," Smith said. "Graeme Swann has had an outstanding series and from our perspective Paul Collingwood has been the glue in the batting line up. Their seamers have bowled well, especially Graham Onions. He was a new package for us and asked a lot of questions. There's potential there, but there will be a lot of challenges ahead for any team. World cricket today is pretty close and if you aren't good enough in the series, or things don't go your way, then you have to fight to stay in it."
The home side certainly feel they are the superior side and at the end of the series it's hard to argue against that claim. Their batting was far more productive and, with Steyn and Morkel at the helm, they have the more potent pace attack. The only area they fall short in is the spin department and the tour to India will test them fully on that.
South Africa, though, can't afford to get carried away by this victory. After all, the series started with the expectation that they would dominate throughout. However, after a very difficult 2009, which ended with that crushing defeat in Durban, Smith feels his side can now return to their previous levels.
"We thought after 2008 that we were heading in the right direction and then we took a step back. But in 2010 we have started in a really positive way with a good Test in Cape Town and an even better one here, so we certainly want to see our curve going back upwards."
For now Smith will sit back with a sigh of relief that this series didn't slip away. That would have taken some explaining.
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