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South Africa are undoubtedly the best Test side at present but they still have much to achieve to be considered among the all-time great teams
Firdose Moonda at Newlands
February 17, 2013
One way of judging how much a series victory means to a team is perhaps by the scale of their celebrations. South Africa's recent ones have involved singing the team song on the pitch. They sang it at Lord's, they did it in Perth and at Newlands, after beating Pakistan. They did not do it in Port Elizabeth, after their resounding triumph over New Zealand.
Success over Pakistan is highly valued, as was evident when the squad emerged two hours after the winning runs were scored, dodged the sprinklers that were watering the outfield and formed a huddle on the pitch. They did their thing and left to the sounds of the occupants in one of the hospitality suites chanting, "Happy Birthday," to AB de Villiers, who turned 29 today.
The result gave South Africa breathing room at the top of the Test rankings, a sixth consecutive series win, a 14th unbeaten Test match in as many months, and Graeme Smith a fifth consecutive Test win, the longest such streak in his captaincy. Those numbers make it sound like the start of a dynasty but to call it that would be premature.
How South Africa see themselves now
South Africa are a worthy No.1 side and of the three teams to have had that honour recently - England and India being the other two - they seem to have the right mix of personnel and personality to stay on top for a period of time. South Africa's batting line-up has been described as among the best at the moment, but it is the bowling that has been the centerpiece of their success.
The pace pack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, and the added value of Jacques Kallis, has been compared to the greats of old - the 1980s West Indians, although South Africa lack the same terrifying pace in every one of their bowlers, or the Australian attack of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie, but South Africa don't have the equivalent of Shane Warne.
Their first-choice spinner at the moment, Robin Peterson, had a massive impact on this Newlands Test but by his own admission you had to "deal with what you have." He does not turn the ball prodigiously, and doesn't often get favourable conditions at home, and he has learned to work within these boundaries.
So how close are South Africa to establishing their reign as an era? The mighty West Indies went 29 series without defeat. The closest anybody came to that was Australia, who did not lose for 16 series. South Africa just completed their 12th without losing. It puts into perspective how much more there is to achieve before they can consider themselves among the all-time greats.
They are, however, giants in their own country. This is their longest unbeaten streak, beating the 11 between 1998 and 2001. They are also close to completing seven years of being unbeaten away from home. They are part of an environment that is more competitive because the top teams are not far apart. This match was an example of that.
South Africa were made to work for their victory. Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq's twin centuries along with Saeed Ajmal's ten wickets gave South Africa's their first strenuous workout of the summer.
Ajmal really made them sweat. The world's premier spin bowler proved difficult to pick on a surface that suited him far more than the one at the Wanderers. It will give South Africa's batsmen something to think about, for the next Test in Centurion and for the test after that, in the UAE.
There is territory Smith's team has not conquered. They haven't won in India, Sri Lanka or the UAE. They have the opportunity of crossing the Emirates off the list later in the year. Until then, parties on the pitch will have to do.
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