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Firdose Moonda in Durban
December 30, 2013
Don't think we'll ever replace Jacques - Smith
Welcome back, Durban. You are part of South Africa again.
After being the scene of four straight defeats between 2009 and 2011, South Africa have turned their fortunes at the coastal city around. That Graeme Smith could lead his men out to sing their team song on its surface more than three and a half hours after they sealed the series victory was confirmation Kingsmead has returned to the fold of home turf.
"Protea fire" is the chorus of their song. The concept, featuring their nickname, the Proteas, is based on the germination of the country's national flower. It can only grow after a fire, because the seeds are cased in a hard shell which can remain closed for two decades. After the adversity of flame, it blooms.
Smith believes his men lived up to their emblem because they overcome conditions and persistent clouds to ensure they were undefeated in a 14th consecutive series. Of those, they have won eight, including this one. "The wicket didn't make it easy for us. It's almost like we were back in India," he said. "The weather and the pitch made life a little more difficult. We had to work hard. To have the ability to turn it around and win like we did is a huge achievement."
The difference ended up being in the spin department, but not in the way anyone would have expected. Robin Peterson ended up as South Africa's leading wicket-taker in the second innings with four scalps. MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja were two of them, having misjudged their shots against him.
Zaheer Khan was the other on the final day, adjudged lbw. Replays showed the ball would have missed legstump but the delivery Peterson bowled to achieve that wicket was a carrom ball, a skill many would have thought Peterson lacked. Add that to the 52-ball 61 he powered his way to with the bat and it was a good game for Peterson, who was under scrutiny after the way he bowled in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan.
South Africa still have unanswered questions in that department but Peterson went some way to reassuring them with this showing. "Both our spinners have faced challenging times," Smith said. "Robbie did well with the ball and with the bat last night. He brings a good balance to the team. The four wickets will be hugely rewarding. Without those four wickets, I don't think we would have come close to winning this Test match."
Peterson's ability as a lower-order allrounder may take the pressure off South Africa to find another seam-bowling two-in-one immediately following Kallis' Test retirement. There will be no easy polyfill for them, something MS Dhoni warned them of when he described Kallis as their "ultimate luxury" which India could have used.
"If we had a Kallis, we would have played two spinners and three seamers," Dhoni said. "But there's no point complaining about what we don't have. South Africa will have to find someone. They have players who can bat and bowl but they will have groom them further."
Smith acknowledged something similar but has already understood Kallis himself cannot be substituted. "I don't think we are ever going to replace Jacques. The sooner we face that, the better," he said. 'We'll need to get tactically smart. I don't think anyone who gets picked should be labeled as Jacques Kallis' replacement. What Jacques has left is huge. It's important that the next guy gets a fresh start."
South Africa have six weeks to ponder that before Australia arrive, a contest they are relishing despite the break to play domestic 20-overs cricket. "We're just hitting our straps and now we have another month off... I feel if we had a couple more [international] matches, we'd play really well," Smith said. "But it's setting up for an exciting series."
Until then, South Africa can soak in the success they've just achieved in beating the team ranked second, gaining two ranking points, winning a series against India for the first time since 2006. "The one team we haven't beaten over the last three years [is India]. At the Wanderers, we were behind the game for 90% of it and fought our way back to draw. This was an incredible win considering the weather and India's performance on the first day." Smith said. "This team conducts itself in ways that speak for itself."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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