New Zealand in South Africa 2012-13 December 30, 2012

SA want ownership of No. 1 spot

After a year of tough travelling to secure their top ranking, 2013 will be slightly less demanding for South Africa but they are determined not to lose focus

Although 2013 holds less daunting challenges for South Africa than the previous 12 months, AB de Villiers sees it as an important phase for the team as they look to establish an era of supremacy. South Africa have seven home Tests and two in the UAE scheduled, contrasting starkly with this year where they competed in nine away matches in three countries and had just one at home.

Their upcoming opponents, New Zealand, Pakistan and India are all ranked too far below them to make any of the contests a battle of No.1, which is what South Africa played for in every series in 2012. Unless South Africa suffer a recession-like slump, the ranking is safe throughout the year which de Villiers hopes will signify the start of their reign.

"The last time we got to the No.1 spot we threw it away like it did not really matter to us," he said referring to the four months South Africa spent at the top in 2009 after Australia lost the Ashes. Then the achievement was more a result of shifts in other teams' positions, although South Africa won away series in England and Australia the season before.

Now there is a feeling of ownership of No.1 because it was earned and defended in 2012. "There is a real sense of care in the team and an amazing team spirit," de Villiers said. "If we can come through this year with solid performances, we've got a good chance to dominate around the world for the next four or five years."

With Graeme Smith deemed to have about that length of time left in his career, Jacques Kallis' niggling injuries the only thing which could prevent him from the same and the bowling unit at their peak, de Villiers thinks South Africa have the personnel to establish a legacy. "We've just got a wonderful team at the moment," he said.

De Villiers has been identified as a key component of that success by Gary Kirsten because his taking over the wicketkeeper role has created an extra spot for a No.7 batsman. Although de Villiers was reluctant to do the job at first and went on record saying he would prefer to concentrate on being "the best batsman in the world," he has since embraced both batting and keeping.

He also said his goals are no longer personal. "I want to be in a successful team that keeps the No.1 spot for a very long time and that dominates world cricket for a very long time. That's what I am after. If I can play my part in that doing that by doing well with the bat and the gloves, so be it."

De Villiers' u-turn was the cause of some consternation because it forced the selectors to renege on a commitment they made to Thami Tsolekile, who had been told he would get a chance to replace Mark Boucher. It also created debate over de Villiers' own ability to bat with the freedom and flair of old while spending hours bending his chronically bad back in the field.

After the England tour, de Villiers suffered a recurrence of his back injury. Coupled with the fact that he had not scored a single half-century since taking the gloves, there were calls for him to give up the role but he silenced those with a classy 169 against Australia in Perth. Although those runs came in the match where de Villiers spent the least amount of time in the field, he said it was an indication that he is capable of performing in both departments.

All it needed, he believed, was time for the adjustment of a dual role. "At first it was tough but I've got into a nice rhythm now," he said. "It took me a while to get into that but now I feel I understand what my role is. I spend time on keeping and batting in training and I don't feel tired after a day's play. I don't feel tired after a Test match. It's more a mental thing than anything else. The fatigue factor is nonsense. It's more a concentration thing."

To keep de Villiers fresh, Cricket South Africa agreed to his request to sit out the Twenty20 series against New Zealand, especially after he complained of tiredness following the domestic one-day cup play-off. De Villiers hinted there will be more of the same in future limited-overs contests, even though he captains in those formats.

"It's all about managing your energy levels and injuries and niggles and also keeping the passion for the game and the hunger to succeed and do well," he explained. "We play a lot of cricket in the year and we are in a situation where we really need to manage it. Some of our guys are getting a bit older and we really have to look after them if we want to maintain the No.1 ranking in Tests."

De Villiers said the break has done him so much good that he is now, "refreshed, energised and hungrier than ever." The Test team have not played in front of home fans since January and the players are particularly looking forward to this summer.

"Playing at Newlands is as special as they come and I'll enjoy this New Year's Test even more," de Villiers said. "We've got a good sense of confidence when we play there. It's almost like we just free up and express ourselves."

South Africa have not lost a Test in Cape Town since 2006 and many of the squad call the venue their favourite because of the large support base there. As proof of that, only 3,000 tickets are still available for the first day of the Test.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2013, 14:03 GMT

    Saffers only have 2 problems to consider at the moment - find a decent spinner and find a replacement for Kallis. Losing kallis will alter the whole balance of the side.

  • Pramod on January 2, 2013, 12:34 GMT

    i wrote a response to this yesterday, but obviously i didn't need to... philander did all the talking today... silence please - genius at work ;)

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2013, 7:09 GMT

    While SA have not been playing at the top of their game, they are still ahead of the rest, with much room for improvement.

  • Tony on January 2, 2013, 5:16 GMT

    Well if I am to sum up the comments here, SA are #1 despite not being at the top of their game, putting in some lacklusture performances and with a few players fading from past heights. They have been lucky to save some games, but those they won were deserved. I hope that sums the comments up fairly.

    Great teams dont win every game, even the great Aussie and Windies teams lost the odd game. Even they scraped a draw against all odds. I think it is a sign of a great team to save teats that they should have lost by all rights, and SA are consistently able to do that when needed.

    What is really exciting is that SA have done so well despite Steyn bowling more within himself, Kallis hardly bowling, Morkel underperforming and Philander being limited and one dimensional. This merely means we are on top for the long haul because we will need to be abysmal to lose to anyone. Imagine what will happen if they really click!

  • Dale on January 1, 2013, 23:26 GMT

    I think fair enough that SA #1, but I won't say daylight is second --- things are quite close at the moment between teams. It will be interesting to see how Aussie and Pakistan play away from home conditions (Sub-con i mean for Pak who i realise unfortunately don't get to play at home). As a Kiwi, I'm bit scared about what is going happen in the upcoming tests, with SA keen to show why they are #1 to their home fans. Only hope is that NZ pull of one of their surprise upsets. Have to disagree with comments about Philander - the guy is a class bowler, he had success for while now, and i think SA really missed him in the second test in Aussie. The difference between Steyn and Philander in perth and the earlier tests wasn't just about more pace in Perth, it was about less bad balls. Steyn especially was bowling four balls at a rate very unusual for him (helped by Clark great batting). In Perth the four balls went and they could build pressure.

  • Pramod on January 1, 2013, 22:40 GMT

    dear lillian thank you for your 'opinions'... i think your assessment of sa's bowling attack is pretty poor. 1) world bowling rankings, #1 Dale Steyn, #2 Vernon Philander. Philander's figures for 2012: 9 matches, 328 overs, 75 maidens, 908 runs, 43 wickets at an average of 21.11, with an economy of 2.76 - 3x5 wicket hauls, 1x10 wicket haul. If you think that's not a world beater, then I hate to think what is. SA are the strongest team in world cricket, because as a unit, they are (when injury free) the most balanced side on the planet - which is why nobody has beaten them for so long. In Australia, we ended a world class batsman's career (ponting) because our bowlers made him look so poor, and in england, we ended their captain's career because they got a hiding in their own back yard. Please dont pontificate about SA - the stats, results and performance of the team prove you wrong, very wrong. As a kiwi, you might not enjoy the next 5 days of test cricket, but I know I will.

  • Walter on January 1, 2013, 12:07 GMT

    @LillianThomson on (January 01 2013, 03:44 AM GMT), I dont think you actually play cricket. As an allrounder i can tell you that batting and bowling on a spicy pitch is completely different to a flat track. While the overall batting averages are higher than the pre 90's and the bowling averages are lower you shouldnt forget that pitches back then were, in general, bowler friendly. Overall pitches these days only have something in them for fast bowlers on the first day(usually morning). If one has to bowl all day its not strange to see him bowl within himself especially when theres nothing there. I'm sure it slipped your mind that Steyns speeds are up when hes got something going on. Same goes for any other fast bowler really.

  • David on January 1, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    @ SurlyCynic,

    Happy New Year to you too!

    I'm very fond of South Africa, and I don't want to sound too critical, and I intend my criticism to be constructive.

    I think they played to the absolute limit of their potential in 2012, and I salute their away wins although I think they deserved a drawn series in Australia. (And as a Kiwi it hurts to say that!)

    But I am still unconvinced by Vernon Philander, who seems quite limited to me: a very accurate bowler, but neither quick enough nor tall enough to remain a world beater. And I'm totally convinced that Rory Kleinveldt is not a Test bowler - I don't think he'd get into any state side in Australia.

    Lastly, the track record for short, skiddy fast bowlers when they lose their pace is not great: the latter years of Waqar Younis and Danny Morrison were like watching Paul Jarvis bowl. I think Allan Donald should be focusing on Steyn bowling four 4 over spells per day in Test cricket, but in the upper 140Ks. He is ordinary at 135K.

  • des on January 1, 2013, 10:24 GMT

    LillianThomson: You may claim to be a 'cricket lover' and not a troll, but if another team had an unbeaten year and won away series in England and Aus, and I went onto their article on Cricinfo and began my comment with 'xxx were predominantly a lucky team', I think I would deserve to be labeled a troll. You mention the weakest performances of SA's year and ignore a lot of the quality and effort they produced.

    I agree with some of your points that it wasn't SA's best year in terms of bowling, but when you say that SA can only bat well I think it ignores the pitches prepared which included some very flat ones. I thought the bowling performance on the road at the Oval was amazing, as was Perth apart from the last wicket slogging. And when the bowlers couldn't get teams out on flat tracks (Oh for a Warnie!) then our batsmen ensured we couldn't be beaten. Which is the risk the hosts took in preparing the flat tracks, ie Adelaide. Happy New Year anyway.

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2013, 10:04 GMT

    Secondly, your story about SA's "luck" and the narrowness of their wins conveniently ignores several things which went against SA. In Aus, in the first test, SA lost an in-form middle order batsman who was also our best part-time spin option and played both innings with 10 men; and, in the second test, SA lost almost their entire pace attack (Kallis, Steyn, Philander) on the first day! To salvage draws with both of those significant disadvantages was no mean feat, and should surely be counted in SA's favour. How "narrow" would those games have been if those things hadn't happened?

    Your account of what happened at Lords is also strange. You take the margin of victory (51 runs) to show that the match could easily have gone the other way. Anyone who remembers the game will tell you that's disingenuous. England faced a certain draw and home series loss, so Prior and Swann batted recklessly and scored quickly against the old ball. This ended quickly when the new ball came.