South Africa v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 4th day January 14, 2013

Standard-bearers refuse to let it slip

South Africa's easy series win over New Zealand was proof of their strength in depth and a relentless commitment to maintaining focus

Less than ten minutes after South Africa had completed back-to-back Test wins at home for the first time since beating Bangladesh 2-0 in 2008, they were already thinking of the next challenge. It was not that remarkable that Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who was not part of the Test squad, was bowling on the St George's Park practice pitch in the immediate aftermath of the victory, but it was surprising that all the members of the coaching staff were with him.

Gary Kirsten, Allan Donald and Russell Domingo along with Paddy Upton and fitness man Rob Walter were all out with Tsotsobe. That left perhaps only the logistics officer Riaan Muller in the change-room to welcome back the successful unit. Maybe there is nothing to that, but it perhaps explained a word that became commonplace during South Africa's quest for the No. 1 ranking: "processes".

Over the last few series, celebrations have become less exuberant because every achievement is being contextualised as being part of something bigger. After their victory in Perth, which clinched successive series wins in Australia, some of the players flew home immediately. Those who stayed behind had a fairly measured time at a local pub. After the Newlands win, they dispersed immediately, and the same will happen after Port Elizabeth.

Family time is prioritised, especially for coach Gary Kirsten, whose youngest child is just over a year old. He has transferred that philosophy to the rest of the squad. In doing that, he has also given them perspective, which will be much needed because of the overwhelming fashion in which they dealt with New Zealand.

South Africa would always have expected to win this series. They may not, however, have thought victory would come as easily as it did. In both matches, New Zealand followed the same pattern of rolling over and being heavily defeated. South Africa had to change almost nothing. Even when they made a forced change to their starting XI, it virtually had no effect on the final result.

For many, that was proof of South Africa's depth, and even for others, for whom it wasn't, it did reveal some positives. Fringe players notching up results against a struggling New Zealand may not be an ideal shop window for what lies in South Africa's cupboard. But it allowed the likes of Rory Kleinveldt and Dean Elgar to settle on the international stage without the pressures that come with playing in a more competitive outing. Even if neither go on to record streams of success, they have been given the best opportunity to do so because of this experience.

Blooding talent was one of the aims of this series; applying themselves ruthlessly was another. South Africa managed both. In the past, they have been known to play to the standard of the opposition, even when it required slumping to it, rather than to their own potential. In this series they did not allow that haze of mediocrity to descend, except for a few overs after tea on the second day of the first Test when New Zealand were given some freebies.

The brutality was evident most in the bowling. New-ball spells that were accurate and hostile continually asked questions of the New Zealanders' technique outside the off stump, and revealed that they had not worked out the art of leaving. Dale Steyn found more swing than he had in the last year and with him moving the ball at pace, New Zealand had a dual challenge.

Steyn's return to his best took the spotlight off Morne Morkel, who caused problems of his own by creating pressure. He was the most economical bowler among the seamers, conceding marginally fewer runs than Steyn. Since the last time Morkel played New Zealand in March 2011, where he took the only six wickets to fall in the second innings of the Wellington Test, he has been more consistent and more destructive. Previously Morkel could be erratic, now he is as miserly as he is mean and that will be key to South Africa's future success.

While the bowlers caused frenetic action, the batsmen were able to restore calm immediately afterwards, showing South Africa's ability to divorce one part of a match from the other. Alviro Petersen was the first to do that, with his serene century after the madness of the first session in Cape Town, and Hashim Amla delivered one of his typically calm knocks in Port Elizabeth.

South Africa's top four did what New Zealand's could not. They created situations for their middle order to play with freedom rather than rescue them from impending disaster. Presenting the opportunity is different from taking it, and AB de Villiers led in the creativity stakes along with Faf du Plessis, and then Dean Elgar followed suit.

When South Africa review the series, they will conclude that everybody had a good run. If this was a final school examination, everyone would have passed and obtained the necessary points to reach the next level, but obviously not every series will be this easy.

South Africa host Pakistan in two weeks for three Tests, and then play them in the United Arab Emirates later in the year, before the home series against India and Australia. What they can take into those challenges besides reputation is form and confidence.

The win over New Zealand gave South Africa their fifth consecutive series victory. In that period, they have only lost one match (to Sri Lanka in Durban) and won eight. They are dominating, but will only continue to do so if they are able to maintain the same standards they did against New Zealand and the same refusal to slacken.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Glenn on January 16, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    Hopefully as a NZ fan we are over the hidings. Test cricket is the be all and end all in my opinion, however beggars can't be choosers and it would be nice to win at least one ODI. Different teams, Batsmen friendly pitches, there is always hope. Back to the test side Here's one to throw names in the hat for. Hessen our great coach who is a long way out of his depth, states Watling will stay down the order and McCullum will also drop down. So who's going to open against England?? Surely not Guptil or Flynn? Flynn's average must be down to 19 by now. Does anyone have any idea what this so called coach is smoking?? Maybe Papps or Rutherford?- This hole we are in is about to get bigger! Probably bring Jamie How back which will top it all. Love to hear what everyone thinks?

  • Amol on January 15, 2013, 15:27 GMT

    UAE pitches are nothing but tailor-made pitches - a total farce - to make sure that PAK don't loose to anybody, I mean anybody. Not even Superman. The last time SA played them there, it resulted in two boring draws. Nothing will change this time too. So now that time of the schedule to just switch off the TV set and relax is back again, instead of boring one-self to death.

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2013, 12:34 GMT

    @ eric_bryan!Sa doesn't have any decent spinner. Their pace attack won't be as effective on the uae pitches. I m sure pak can beat them in uae :)

  • Eric on January 15, 2013, 9:58 GMT

    I dont think the issue of South Africa having problems against spin in the sub continent is true. When was the last time we lost a test series in the sub continent even with the legendary Muralitharan, Kumble, Mushtaq and guys like Harbajan and shakib there we've been good enough so what makes you think Ajmal, Rehman and Hafeez will do something spectecular? This Proteas batting line up is nowhere close to England. What the Pakistan batsmen should be thinking of is how to face up to Steyn, Philander, Morkel, Kallis, Peterson and Klenveildt this year. I doubt they really have the discipline to deal with Philander's off stump line in particluar.

  • Amol on January 15, 2013, 9:51 GMT

    Right now, I hope Steyn is aware of the fact that he needs to reach 350 wickets within 69 tests to beat Lilee's record for a fast bowler. That means he needs to get 38 within the next 7 tests. The ranking and domination of SA will then automatically take care of itself. The task can't get much easier for Steyn with PAK being the opponents for the next 3 tests. Steyn is to fast bowling what Beethoven is to classical music and Denzel Washington is to acting.

  • Amol on January 15, 2013, 9:40 GMT

    The SA team from the 1990s was vulnerable against spin with the ONLY exception of genuine all-rounders, Kallis and Pollock. But Since Smith's captaincy in 2003, an emphasis was put on facing and conquering spin-bowling. Still SA struggled against QUALITY spin (read:Kumble, Warne and Murali) till 2005 during the learning phase. But since the admission of AB and Amla in 2004, SA are the best spinners of the spin ...the only team EQUAL to IND in facing spin. Let's not still live on the age-old, now outdated myth that SA don't like spin. In fact they all - including Smith and any of his opening partners, Duminy, Du Plessis - milk it.

  • Amol on January 15, 2013, 8:00 GMT

    At this rate, Steyn, if he completes 100 tests, which he deserves and which he can, will easily have overhauled Kapil Dev's 434, which is a target every proud Test specialist bowler should aim for...No specialist bowler should be comfortable with the fact that an all-rounder has captured more wickets than him. AT THIS RATE, a few more tests than 100 (104 to be exact) and Steyn would overtake the great Walsh and a little more than 112 and he would have beaten McGrath himself and then Steyn can safely retire.

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    I expect South Africa to comfortably account for Pakistan in the forthcoming series. I believe that they will struggle against the South African pace attack on the faster bouncier tracks. South Africa will be quite a formidable unit when JP Duminy returns. A five match series with an Australian side containing Cummins, Patterson and Siddle and a South African side including Duminy would be a mouth watering prospect.

  • Dre on January 15, 2013, 3:43 GMT

    @Soso_killer. What's funny is that this same NZ side recently won a test and I think drew a test series in Sri Lanka (and only 3 players from that series are missing), so I don't see how SA would not have beaten Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka as well lol. @Istiaq Anik. The best way for Bang to silence critics is for them and their fans to focus on continuing to improve their own performances, which are more woeful than NZ rather than comparing themselves every time another team struggles. If you are good enough, fine, go out their and at least draw more matches than you lose.

  • Edward on January 15, 2013, 2:05 GMT

    The South Africans played very well, even the ones on the other side! Onwards and upwards.