South Africa v New Zealand, 1st Test, Cape Town, 3rd day January 4, 2013

South Africa have matured as a team - Smith


The differences between South Africa and New Zealand were far greater than the ability of one attack to take 20 wickets and the struggle of the other to do half of that or that one batting line-up could score over 300 and the other just over that in both innings combined. According to Graeme Smith what really separates top sides from those in the tier below is whether they can know their game and play it.

"The biggest thing is an understanding of what needs to be done and then going and doing it," Smith said. And for that, it takes experience. South Africa, although not to the same depths as New Zealand, have been through years of what was considered underachievement when they could not reach the top ranking and hovered below.

What they learnt in those years was the ability to withstand, what they learnt after that was how to push on. "There is resilience in the squad. We've been under big pressure. We've fought back from tough positions and we've worked our backsides off to get back into games. Then, when we've had that opportunity, we've driven a bus through the door," Smith said.

At the moment, New Zealand are still on level one but only barely. Sometimes, like in the first innings, they cannot withstand. On other occasions, such as the second, they can for a little while. On every instance over the last 12 months when South Africa have been under that kind of pressure, they have survived.

The Oval, where they came back after a sorry day one; Headingley, where Kevin Pietersen's innings could have blown them away; Lord's, where Matt Prior may have derailed them; Adelaide, where Faf du Plessis rearguard action was epic; and Perth, where Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn played Australia out of the match, all stand out as examples of that. Those performances have shaped the character of the South African squad that exists now.

"There is a good degree of confidence within the squad, which enables you to play that way going forward. If guys have got good performances behind them and come off with some good wins … it's a lot easier to play that way when you haven't got that kind of confidence," Smith said.

New Zealand are side that does not have it. Hobart and Colombo aside they have not had a good last year. It's obvious even to their opposition where their faults lie. "They are struggling to find who fits in where and how can perform in certain role," Smith said. "It's more than who bats at No. 4, it's about behind the scenes and the environment. They are growing there."

South Africa have leaders other than Smith in the dressing-room, a solid top six and a bowling attack that is the envy of the cricketing world. They look a perfectly balanced unit whose only worry is to drive home their No. 1 ranking as hard as they can. "It's just about winning really, that is what you are defined by in modern-day sport," Smith said. "If you play games like this and you are dominant and you take the game forward, it's very nice."

They have been in control before but rarely as much as they were against New Zealand at Newlands, when Smith looked at the scoreboard and saw New Zealand were 26 for 9. "I couldn't quite believe we were in that situation," he said. "We bowled superbly in our new spells. We didn't start sluggish and we asked questions early on."

What was as important as the emphatic nature of the bowling for Smith was the calmness of the batting that followed. "After bowling them out for 45, the attitude we had as a batting unit was so important. It would be easy to go out there and think: 'What's happening out here?'" he said. "It was great to see Alviro push through those little sessions where he has found it tough in the past, because his potential is huge."

Petersen's hundred could end up as the least talked about but most telling act in the match. That would not matter to Smith, even if he doesn't get his due, because it's not as much about the individual as it is about the collective. "There's honesty in the group. I see us as mature team. We've grown up now." New Zealand will hope they can do the same.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2013, 10:45 GMT

    #tanstell87....England are a close 2nd....who are you kidding, can only be yourself! The only team that are a close 2nd or could wrest away the number one mantle, in other words, beat SA, is Pakistan. They have possibly as good a bowling line-up, with an ability to bowl on all surfaces, and a batting line-up, which although not yet proven, has exciting possibilties. Both England and Australia only look good, because India and Sri Lanka have internal problems.

  • James on January 6, 2013, 2:11 GMT

    How quick people are to forget! Just a couple of months ago we had disgusted SA fans saying they would never follow SA again - before Australia was reduced to 3 bowlers early in the 2nd test, such was the hammering they were taking. Anybody who watched that series knows that SA were the 2nd best team on the park till the 2nd day of the final test, and only incredible fortune saved them (who can win in Adelaide with 3 bowlers, or in a test when 4 bowlers have to be replaced?). And now the audacity by some here to say that other teams are not even close to SA! Not even when the most recent SA home series vs Australia was drawn! (lost the ODIs, lost vs AUS in T20 WC) Now a big win against the bottom ranked of the major test teams and we are to believe SA are invincible? Absurd levels of spin and selective memory happening here, and I''m not talking about the wicket.

  • Tony on January 5, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    A few interesting comments, and a few optamistic ones like tanstell87 thinking england are a close 2nd.

    @chokkashokka. The past masters of home ground advantage would be India, who have historically prepared pitches to favour their own bowlers. I dont see anything wrong with this as it is the prerpogative of the host country to prepare pitches that would favour their own conditions. This can backfire as happened when England toured India, SA toured, well, everywhere since 2006. that surely is the sign of an exceptional team when they are good enough to adapt to all conditions and overcome those conditions.

    As far as being a mindfield, SA scored almost 400 runs at a good rate before declaring. NZ in their second dip showed application and fared much better. Dont blame the pitch for a purile batting performance in the face of a pace attack at its peak.

  • Prashan on January 5, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    Brilliant stuff South Africa. You all are a great example for test cricket. As a Lankan I salute your performance. Hope Pakistan can impress in South Africa as they have the bowlers, but batting is still the concern although it has improved recently. Looking forward to a great test series between Pakistan and South Africa (effectively men in green v men in green)!

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2013, 8:08 GMT

    Congratulations for victory. PAK vs SA would be interesting as PAK have to tour nxt month. I have seen many comments by SA fans on others articles that they will easily beat PAK. Keep in mind that England fans were thinking the same before 3:0 whitewash. I hope that after the series you will definitely know that.

  • Muzammil on January 5, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    @chokkashokka, In case you missed all the test cricket action in 2012, Aus and Eng prepared flat tracks to neutralise SA's bowling threat - not Minefields. You ask how should visiting teams compete, well just as SA did (they won overseas in NZ, Eng, Aus). As @Harold mentioned, SA wickets are there to test the technique of batsmen. If it was a minefield would SA score 347/8 or better still, NZ score 275! Atleast SA doesn't produce the cabbage patch like India did vs England and still LOST!

  • N. on January 5, 2013, 6:22 GMT

    N. Sundararajan from Chennai ---- Graeme Smith's words " there is honesty in the group !"-----fantastic expression. I wish the Indian team could claim that---with factionalism, favouritism, blame game, selfishness, personal priorities over team, and what not ! God ( not the current BCCI administration) should save Indian cricket !

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2013, 4:35 GMT

    @chokkashokka I don't know what planet you are on, but that wicket was not a demon, SA was outstanding, NZ was found wanting, period. To be honest, I don't actually know what you are expecting. Eng and Aus can be beaten at home, SA showed how to do it. SA's wickets are difficult to bat on first, the Wanderers being a prime example. Last time SA played Oz at Wanderers, it didn't go SA's way at all. What SA's wickets have done, is redress the balance between bat and ball, setting up for real, honest test cricket that will properly examine a batsman's technique up front, unlike the featherbeds offered in WI and turners in India, for example. Now there's a country that really prepares for home ground advantage - one that you conveniently forgot to mention.

  • Nota on January 5, 2013, 4:20 GMT

    @chokkashokka: Wow! Did you miss 2012? Home sides LOST in Eng vs SA, Aus vs SA and India vs Eng (yes, I know you didn't mention India).

  • Thank You on January 5, 2013, 2:17 GMT

    Another example of an exciting wicket - eng, sa and oz have taken the home field advantage to whole new level. This is a mockery of test cricket - how can you prepare wickets like this? How is a visiting side supposed to compete? All three 3 countries have polarized cricket and reduced it to a farce where test matches are folding up in half the allotted time. Why don't they play a second test right after the first one? All countries should boycott playing on these minefields.

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