Pakistan in South Africa 2012-13 February 25, 2013

A summer of content for South Africa

Graeme Smith's side have firmly established themselves among the greatest South African teams, and he has set sights on achieving even more

It really was a lazy Sunday afternoon. Golden rays dripped onto sloping grass embankments where colourful umbrellas were the only things to break the palette of blue sky and green ground. Some ate, some drank, others reclined in leisure. The burble was neither shrill nor suggestive, it was constant and comforting.

It was summer time in South Africa. Let nobody tell you this time of year is anything but special. In fact Graeme Smith used those exact words to describe the Test team's success over the last two months which culminated on Sunday in Centurion.

Beating a hapless New Zealand and underprepared Pakistan in tailor-made conditions may not strike as victories worth celebrating with such gusto but still this was the summer of South African cricket's content. To borrow from Shakespeare, it was the season in which they hung their opponents' bruised arms for monuments and turned dreadful marches into delightful measures.

Winning consistently at home evaded South Africa in the same way triumphing away does other teams. Between 2009 and 2011, they did not register a series win at home even while they were conquering territory everywhere else.

Kingsmead was the main reason South Africa slipped up at home. They struggled on a pitch that has grown slower over the years and a support base that has been strongly in favour of subcontinental teams. Durban was promptly removed from the Test schedule but will be back next season. Given the strength of South Africa's performances, they have reason to believe they can overturn the hoodoo there.

The current South African Test squad has shown fearlessness that is matched by precision. Too often, teams attempt to play "brave cricket," which was a buzz word for the South African side not too long ago but forget that courage must not exclude attention to detail. Under Gary Kirsten, Smith's men have learned the balance.

They are able to recognise pressure situations and have the skill and mental aptitude to deal with them but they are also capable of transferring those moments onto the opposition. The best evidence of that can be seen from the schedule which listed 25 days of Test cricket this summer. South Africa only played 18. They enjoyed a full week off because of the strength of their performances. Although it meant gate revenue was lower at all grounds and sponsors return on exposure also suffered a little, it underlines South Africa's resolve.

Some call that ruthlessness but it is a little less rash than the word suggests. Others call it being clinical but it has more passion that that. It is a combination of applying themselves with intent and not letting the aggression cloud the end goal.

Only a team that is as mature as it is confident is able to execute that properly. South Africa have achieved that level of development because of the mix of the team which retains a strong enough core so rookies coming in have sufficient guidance and room to grow.

South Africa's pace pack has been compared to the West Indian quartet of the 1980s. Pace and variation are their obvious parallels but a less talked about one is that South Africa also seem to have a second wave coming through. Rory Kleinveldt and Kyle Abbott and Marchant de Lange are good enough back up to Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander

A substantial part of that core is Smith himself. The stability of his leadership cannot be underestimated, especially as it is now bearing its best fruit. Under Smith, South Africa have touched unprecedented heights and relived feats from eras past.

As a measure of why the five Test wins out of five this summer are worthy of so much praise they cannot be considered in isolation. Consider instead that the last time South Africa won all their Tests in a home summer, Smith was not even captain of the team. It was ten years ago, in the season of 2002-03 when South Africa beat Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in two Test each. Four of those victories were achieved by an innings, two against Bangladesh. This summer, three of the five wins required South Africa to bat just once.

Similarly the whitewash over Pakistan should not be assessed without context. It was the first under Smith, in series of three Tests more, and the only the third time South Africa have achieved the feat. The two previous occasions where when Ali Bacher's team of 1969-70 beat Australia 4-0 at home and Hansie Cronje's men in 1998-99 blanked West Indies 5-0.

By beating Pakistan 3-0, this South African side has put themselves on the same plane as the previous two and can now be considered among the best the country has ever produced. They still have distance to travel because they can be ranked among the greatest of all time.

Small comparisons are already been made. South Africa's pace pack has been compared to the West Indian quartet of the 1980s. Pace and variation are their obvious parallels but a less talked about one is that South Africa also seem to have a second wave coming through. Rory Kleinveldt and Kyle Abbott and Marchant de Lange are good enough back up to Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.

Smith has been compared to Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting because he is an inspirational captain. Morkel calls him "the voice," because when he talks, everyone listens. He does not do as much talking as he does leading by example. The team's record of never losing when Smith has scored a century remains intact and he is the leading run-scorer in successful fourth-innings run chases.

He is also aware that he has not done it all. "I feel grateful that the team and I were able to achieve something today and hope we can go on to achieve a lot more," he said. For the next seven months, there is no more than can be achieved. The break in South Africa's Test schedule is "disappointing," for Smith and cricket lovers the world over who will be denied watching a team at its peak.

The interruption in play will require South Africa to put major emphasis on their preparation before the next series, which is also where they most anticipated challenge lies. They will travel to the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan with the knowledge of what happened to England when they went there as the No.1 ranked team and that winning in the subcontinent remains the final frontier.

Perhaps South Africa will only be considered truly great when they win series in India and Sri Lanka and that may be a fair way to measure them. They will have to wait until 2015 before they will have the chance to do that.

So for now, all they can to do is soak in the summer's last sunshine knowing that there will be few seasons as successful as this one. They may reflect on the words to Bryan Adams' song about carefree loving at the warmest time of year and realise if they had a choice maybe they'd always want to be here. Surely, these are some of the best days of their lives.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 27, 2013, 12:57 GMT

    SA is d best team in d world now by a fair distance....Eng comes 2nd...they r also a good team....AUS, IND & PAK are pretty avg teams...SL have a good limited overs' side...In tests, they are really poor now...

  • David on February 27, 2013, 5:06 GMT

    For those despairing over the Proteas playing no tests for 7 months, do not fear, there's always a Saffa team playing somewhere.

    In cricinfo's current New Zealand & England "player lists," there are 14 SA born (& mostly raised,) players. (Not including Strauss, listed, but retired.) There are 6 in the NZ player list, and 8 in the Eng player list. A full team's worth, plus extras, of Saffa players for you to follow while the Proteas twiddle their during the cancelled Sri Lanka test series.

    Ironically, given the debate over the "SA keeper question," current & recent keepers for both countries are "SA born." Prior & Kieswetter for Eng, Watling & van Wyk for NZ. (None would make the SA team anyway.)

    So, we can all still have fun following SA cricket. The scorecard options are endlessly confusing versions of Saffa vs Saffa:

    N Compton c Watling b Wagner IJL Trott c Watling b Cachopa K Pietersen c Munro b Wagner MJ Prior c Wagner b Cachopa

    SA cricket is like Coca Cola - its everywhere!

  • Dummy4 on February 27, 2013, 4:06 GMT

    I wish south africa now try Rilee rossow.Reeza Hendricks,Obus Pieneer,James Price,Dane Patterson,Simon Harmer in a low profile series with countries like zimbabwe/Bangladesh so tht u can know what is there talent

  • David on February 26, 2013, 21:38 GMT

    Lots of talk here about SA batting vs Pakistan bowling (mainly AJMAL) in the UAE. Below are some tour stats from the 2010 Pak vs SA Tour in UAE.

    TESTS - 2. Both drawn. (SA bat & Pak bowl figs below.) SA Bat averages: de Villiers 154, Kallis 107, Amla 88, Smith 48, Morkel 45, Steyn 37 Pak Bowl averages: Ahmed 24.8, Riaz, 30.5, Rehman 48.5, Hafeez 55.5 AJMAL 65.6, Gul 85.5 Most runs - Kallis, de Villiers, Amla, Ali, Misbah, Younis, Smith, Umar High scores: de Villiers, Kallis, Younis, Amla, Kallis, Smith, Ali, Amla Most wickets - Rehman, Harris, Ahmed, Morkel, Steyn, Botha, Gul, AJMAL Best Bowling: Ahmed, Morkel, Steyn, Botha, Rehman, Harris, Riaz, AJMAL

    T20s - 2. SA won the Series 2-0, both games by 6 wickest

    ODIs - 5. SA won the Series 3-2. Match stats below. SA won 1st ODI by 8 wickets in 39.3 overs; 3rd ODI by 2 runs, both lost 9 wickets; 5th ODI by 57 runs, SA lost 5 wickets, Pak all out 44.5 overs.

    Pak won 2nd & 4th ODIs, each by 1 wicket in 49.5 overs.

    Hope this helps :)

  • Muzammil on February 26, 2013, 16:40 GMT

    @DeckChairand6pack, glad that I'm not the only one that feels Tahir should be given another chance! I think that whilst the Petersen offers batting depth and should be first choice in SA as pitches wouldn't turn much anyway, In the sub-continent Imran would be more effective. He may only have one sharp turning delivery (the googly) but its still more than I've seen petersen do. Just take a look at the domestic stats and it will confirm that Tahir is the best spinner we quite some distance! He picked up a I think 12 in one game not too long ago...

  • D on February 26, 2013, 15:00 GMT

    South. Africa are deserving best team in world . I also believe they be there for long time to come I'm sure . Smith indeed must be truly inspiring leader . In amla faf and adv have future in your Side hands with best seam attack on planet could possibly rival croft Holden Roberts etc of great West Indies team.

  • des on February 26, 2013, 14:13 GMT

    I'm sure it will be difficult for SA in the UAE, the pitches are sure to be dustbowls. But for those saying SA will definitely lose, consider their away record vs Pakistan.

    In Pakistan, SA have won 2 tests, Pakistan 1 test, and 4 draws. This gave SA 2 out of the 3 series played in Pakistan.

    In the UAE in 2010 there were flat pitches and both matches were draws, with SA declaring their 3rd innings in an attempt to bowl Pakistan out.

    I'm not saying these past results mean SA will win. I'm just pointing out that to say SA always struggle on the SC is wrong. SA's record in Pakistan is far superior to Pakistan's record in SA.

  • A on February 26, 2013, 13:26 GMT

    I think fans, especially PAK fans need to hold their horses. SA is the best team around and they have performed well in subcontinent in the past. I think SA will actually do ok in UAE. However PAK have Ajmal, Rehman, Haffez and if for some reason one of the the main spinners is not available due to fitness/illnes then young Raza Hasan is also a very good bowler. PAK does hold advantage in spin department but SA has good fast bowlers, batsmen and better fielding. There is no point in disrespecting eachother, especially if things go wrong then it just looks silly!! PAK can win in UAE, but it will depend on how well their batsmen will perform, spinners will definitely do thier job well. It will be interesting to watch!!!

  • Tim on February 26, 2013, 12:53 GMT

    The Proteas have already been to the SC, got the t - shirt, outgrown it and handed it down to their younger brother. Our record in these conditions is good, we've taken a boatload of wickets and tons of runs. We have no fear. If we were made to play on the moon we would find a way to compete, no excuses. What do fellow Proteas supporters feel Imran Tahir's chances may be of Test reselection in Oct for the UAE?

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2013, 12:22 GMT

    this is my south african 1st eleven that could beat Pakistan on any day 1.Jacques Kallis 2.Robin Peterson 3.Vernon Philander 4.Dale Steyn 5.Kyle Abott 6.Morne Morkel 7.Rory Kleinveldt 8.Wayne Parnell 9.Lonwabo Tsotsobe 10.Imran Tahir 11.Ryan Mclaren and 12th man would be Hashim Amla,,.,... hahahahahaha