New Zealand in South Africa 2012/13 December 28, 2012

Kirsten sees broader landscape from NZ series


Gary Kirsten's first away tour in charge of South Africa was to New Zealand earlier this year. It was an opportunity to claim the world No. 1 ranking - which would have required a 3-0 series sweep - but Kirsten had other things to think about. For him, it was the time to entrench his philosophy away from the pressures of a prying home media and parochial fans.

The trip was the first of three major blocks of time on the road in 2012. The two to come, against England and Australia, would require a certain robustness. Kirsten used New Zealand to toughen the team up by being softer than anyone would have expected.

While they prepared for the Test series, he ran a marathon. After they won in Hamilton with days to spare, he encouraged them to enjoy New Zealand's natural wonders. The South African squad went to Lake Taupo and the Waitomo Caves. Previously they spent free time holed up in soulless hotel rooms playing video games - ask Mark Boucher and Herschelle Gibbs who once boasted that they spent 13 hours doing exactly that. Kirsten opened doors other South African management ignored.

Allan Donald was sent home before the final match, to allow him time off in what was dubbed "a heavy year of travel". It was in that same fixture that South Africa were troubled - by an injury to Jacques Kallis, the resilience of Kane Williamson and Kruger van Wyk and the weather - but it was also one where they came out strongest, not in result terms but in character.

Kirsten said so himself. He was pleased with the way the then-fringe player JP Duminy who had to step in to Kallis' place scored a century. He was equally satisfied with the coming of age of Morne Morkel who took all six New Zealand wickets by relying on control as much as aggression. "There's a real sense of team-ness," Kirsten said. "We've taken the steps we needed to be able to confront England."

New Zealand was the blank canvas. Once South Africa got to England they had intricate plans drawn and when they reached Australia those plans were coloured in. So far, that exercise has paid off despite the changes that have been made to the Test XI because the broad approach has remained the same: prepare meticulously, don't work harder than is necessary and be ready to make big plays.

Having got all of that right, they face New Zealand again; and again the opposition will be used to plan for the year ahead. "We will play 10 Test matches in 2013 and New Zealand is an important stepping stone," Kirsten said. Although a much lighter year, especially in terms of travel, South Africa have home and away (most probably in the UAE) series against Pakistan and then host India.

The No. 1 ranking will probably not be at risk of being snatched away but both teams from the sub-continent will pose a different challenge to what South Africa have handled over the last 12 months. Technically and tactically, New Zealand are not the right guinea pigs to prepare them but in terms of match practice and habit-forming, they will do as well as anyone else.

Kirsten believes those two factors are the basis for South Africa's string of victories and hopes to continue developing them in the upcoming series. "The success of our team in 2012 was that we remained humble in our play," he said. "We didn't take any situation or any team for granted. We made sure that our preparation was spot on and that when we got into Test match time, we set up solid foundations to give ourselves the best chance of success."

They view the upcoming series against New Zealand as part of a broader landscape. Being complacent will not be an option, neither will being arrogant, even though South Africa are the clear favourites. "We take every match we play representing the badge very seriously," Kirsten said. Evidence of that is in the training schedule: South Africa have five practices lined up before the match starts on January 2, many more than usual.

It may be because a series against New Zealand gives South Africa the opportunity to improve their record at home. South Africa last lost an away Test five series ago in February 2010 in Kolkata but they have lost a match at home in every one of the last five series they've played there. The previous time they went unscathed was against Bangladesh in 2008/09.

But Kirsten does not see it that way. "The guys look proudly at their away record. The success of this team is based what we do every day so whether we are home or away, doesn't matter." It's a cold, clinical explanation and one New Zealand may bear the brunt of.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ra on December 31, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    LillianThomson - "I'm surprised that you cannot recognize the decline in SA's ability to bowl teams out."

    Again - please give us the figures in comparison. In those test games you mentioned how many wickets did the opposition manage to take?

  • Lawrence on December 31, 2012, 9:40 GMT

    The huge runs being scored off the SA bowlers is more an indication of the wickets the matches have been played on than the skill of the bowlers. Single innings stats can be misleading unless compared after both sides have bowled - (438 an example).

    The stats that I would find really interesting: - A "played and missed" count. I feel the 'great' bowlers suffer when the batsmen are just not good enough to nick it. A batsman can end up playing 10 or more 'misses' on his way to 100+ but another bowler gets his wicket when he miss-hits a long hop and is caught on the boundary. - Have DRS's affected the batting/bowling averages compared to before? (I feel stats may show spinner attacks might have different results compared to stats of pace attacks)

  • Chithsabesh on December 31, 2012, 7:02 GMT

    @LillianThomson mate if the South African team is declining and yet they are No1 what would you say about Australia , England.

  • David on December 30, 2012, 15:53 GMT

    @Last Ride SA bowled Australia out twice in one match out of three.

    They bowled NZ out twice in one match out of three.

    They bowled England out twice in two out of three, but in both Tests England scored over 600 runs, which usually prevents defeat.

    I'm surprised that you cannot recognise the decline in SA's ability to bowl teams out. SA has a good batting line up. But they are lucky that neither Australia nor Pakistan has been able to field even half of its best bowlers simultaneously.

  • ra on December 30, 2012, 15:36 GMT


    " They can only beat the teams placed before them." ? who else are they supposed to beat?

    If anything this team is not playing to their potential. You only see their true potential when a challenge is put up against them... otherwise they just do enough to win. Its frustrating as a SA supporter.

    Duminy has proved himself seven fold. And if you actually watched any provincial cricket you would know that we have 100's of players who slip through the net or end up beefing up other countries ranks.

    This team are world beaters... Proteas have 5/6 batsmen who can score 100+ a game... If one guy is not firing we have 2 more who can make up for it. Not many other teams have ever been able to boast that... right through out history. And our bowlers figures talk for themselves.

    Finally we seem to have belief in the side with this coaching staff. We've always had the potential but never quite got there...

  • David on December 30, 2012, 15:04 GMT

    @ Damian Heinz The problem is that SA's successes have all come either against weak teams (SL, NZ), self-destructing teams (England) and an Australia with only two proper batsmen left.

    And to be honest - as a Kiwi living in Oz - SA was lucky to win in Australia, very lucky.

    The fundamental problems remain. No decent batsmen have emerged since De Villiers and Amla. The last twelve months have seen all the bowlers' averages head up towards 30.

    The Kiwis will be easybeats, but SA is lucky that Butt, Asif and Amir remain banned, because at full-strength I'd fancy Pakistan to beat SA home and away this year. And if their batsmen prepare properly and can post innings scores of 300+ the Pakistanis may well win the February series anyway.

  • Chithsabesh on December 30, 2012, 15:00 GMT

    @LillianThomson you really make me laugh. South Africa have a weak bowling attack. Mate have you ever been watching their cricket. you are just like most of the English and Oz fans. Who seem to bad mouth Sa and end up being defeated.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2012, 13:32 GMT

    South Africa as a team is still going under transformation. Go and read what Kirsten is saying about the training and preparations that the team is undergoing. The Proteas are looking for the right combinations in all 3 formats. The test team has settled well. They played an entire new team in the T20 series against NZ and won. All the major cricketing nations are undergoing transformations and the Proteas are excelling in their games. The Aussies thrashed Sri Lanka a few days ago. Something that they could not do against S.A even though they had the chance to do it in the first two tests. As for Dale Steyn dropping in pace, if he is getting wickets and the seamers are complementing each other with a spinner and all the bowlers are getting wickets, why is there need to worry?

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2012, 10:49 GMT

    Steyn will be remembered as a great, but it's true to say that his ability to bowl for long periods at 145kph + has decreased, at least this year. Hopefully not a long term trend, but fast bowlers do age. He's certainly taking less wickets with the emergence of Philander, but the team is winning more matches, and I don't think Steyn will mind. Morkel is bowling better than ever before, but his average is still a worry. Amla, Smith, Kallis and De Villiers are the other reasons we've achieved our no.1 goal. Winning in AU, which took some luck and some Faf, was a big moment for us. Don't think this team will leave the same legacy as the great WI or AU sides, but this is a very good team with some future greats, who should stay no.1 for another year or two.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2012, 10:13 GMT

    I have noticed a trend on these forums that a lot of supporters from either England, Australia or India are so quick to over analyze and quick to criticize a team that has achieved a lot with what little resources they have.

    Get use to it, Proteas are rightfully the best team at the moment.