South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town February 13, 2013

Smith takes South Africa from solid to ruthless

Victory at Newlands will give South Africa their most successful Test run under Graeme Smith

Milestones have been lining up for Graeme Smith and the Newlands Test presents another two.

Smith will captain South Africa for the 100th time (at the Wanderers, he was captaining for the 100th time in Test cricket having once led the World XI). As special as that will be for Smith, the other statistic will be more significant. If South Africa win, it will be their fifth consecutive victory and their best run with Smith as captain.

South Africa's longest winning streak was a period between 2002 and 2003 when they notched up nine wins in succession. The captaincies of Shaun Pollock and Smith straddled that period and Smith was only in charge for the last two, against Bangladesh. In that time they also beat Australia (once), Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Smith's period in charge has been defined by solidity, stability and not losing. Consecutive wins in individual Tests did not stand out as a characteristic but series wins and series draws when it mattered did, particularly away from home. What that pointed to was that South Africa were strong on the defence and capable on the attack, but sometimes too cautious.

Now, that has been replaced by ruthlessness. It helps that South Africa's Test attack is penetrative all the time. Opposition the world over, most recently Brendon McCullum and Dav Whatmore, have praised them for their relentlessness. They apply wave after wave of pressure, they each present different challenges, there is no one to target and they do not give an inch.

They also get the batsmen out of trouble when they need to, When South Africa were bowled out for 225 in Perth, Dale Steyn led the attack to bowl Australia out for 163. Similarly in Johannesburg, when Pakistan's attack dismissed South Africa out for 253, Steyn's 6 for 8 ensured Pakistan were plucked for 49. It is not too often that South Africa's line-up stumbled but when they do, they have the security of knowing that the bowlers can probably make up for it.

It is worth noting that the batsmen have only been bowled out for less than 300 in an innings four times in the last 22 innings. The main credit for that must go to the top four. Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis operate exactly as a top order must. They see off the new ball and lay a platform that allows AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis to play with complete freedom.

De Villiers has benefited most from that. He said he could not remember a time when the team was "10 for 3 or 5 for 2," and he has to do a rescue job. De Villiers does not suffer from short-term memory problems. Since becoming world No.1, South Africa have played six Tests and have only had a total of less than 50 for the loss of three wickets once. That was in Adelaide against Australia in a match they drew.

Smith confirmed there has been a conscious move to ensure the likes of de Villiers and du Plessis can play an aggressively and take the game away from the opposition. "Test matches are about pattern of play and setting the base up," he said. "There is a lot of experience in the top four and we are prepared to do the hard work. We know it's not just about flashy play for us."

With the serious men upfront, the exciting ones further down and bowlers who can operate in just about any situation, Smith's team seems to be able to do it all. The biggest change he can identify in them is that they have become more astute. "It's about big days and big sessions and making big impacts," he said. "When the game needs to be stepped up, we've found the extra bit."

The Newlands Test will have some of those moments. A series victory could be achieved there, which will ensure South Africa go to Centurion under no pressure, a fifth consecutive match will be won which will ensure they continue with their new-found intent and a proud record at the ground that Smith calls the "marquee," venue in the country. It will also be a good way to send off Mark Boucher, who will have his farewell on the third day.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • P on February 14, 2013, 15:12 GMT

    Anytime SA does something good people go overboard. SA has played on fast pitches and won but it is hardly ruthless. It has not even crossed 130 points on ICC rankings. You have to cross 135 to claim that a team ruthless. The only team that did this was Australia around 2007. Remove Steyn and SA is pretty much vulnerable. The had a few close calls in a few games. Generally, test cricket games have gotten weird now-a-days. Barring SA, there are hardly any good teams. Most teams are in transition and DRS is creating additional confusion. Confusing times to draw any significant conclusion.

  • James on February 14, 2013, 14:43 GMT

    @gestapo, something doesn't quite make sense, does it. Reality is awkward that way. If SA are so dominant and Australia in steady decline, why has SA only been able to win four of its last 12 internationals against AUS in all formats? Did you not watch the last two test series between the two countries? SA were VERY lucky to get away with a win after being outplayed most of the time in the series in AUS - thanks largely two an injury when AUS were heading for a massive win in the 2nd test. And I don't recall Warne and McGrath getting smashed for 484 runs in one shortened day.

  • James on February 14, 2013, 14:35 GMT

    Are we talking about the same team I saw getting run ragged for all but the last 3 days of the Australian tour? Hubris. Pride cometh before the fall.

  • Tim on February 14, 2013, 13:41 GMT

    An important consideration in the Proteas' ascent is there away form. To those calling for them to go and perform on spin friendly circuits, Guys, you are about 2/3 years late. We've been there, done it, got the t-shirt, outgrew it and passed it down to our younger brother! We've been all around the world and competed and competed well. In any event, at this moment, the quality of spinners on the sub continent is not nearly as wonderful as people like to think.

  • Yasir on February 14, 2013, 13:32 GMT

    Younis & Shafiq on a roll today... I am so disappointed to watch Azhar Ali not scoring any runs

  • Vikram on February 14, 2013, 11:55 GMT

    @grant king,,u r totally right. The only thing SA can't flaunt is a WC win although they deserve every bit of it. One series loss in the last 6 years is phenomenal. Although the Aussies ruled the arena from the late nineties to 2007 ,they have been on steady decline since then and don't think they can ever catch up again,, SA by a long margin has been the only team that has been consistent .Even if Kallis retires in the near future, they still have AB, Amla, Smith and their fighter plane pace attack . Am not a South African btw. But the fact is it's clearly SA all the way.

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2013, 10:49 GMT

    I'm not worried if other supporters don't see SA as a great team. As long as we are winning them they can say we are weak also. Who needs recognition from supporters that don't want to admit that the proteas are a better team than the rest. We have lost only 1 series since 2006 and that was against Australia. So for nearly 7 years we have lost only one series. To me thats the stuff of a very good bunch of guys. lets see how long we can keep this going.

  • Julian on February 14, 2013, 10:16 GMT

    @ GREATESTGAME ... Ive typed in caps because I wanted you to see this .. Thank you so much for that comment , I'm so tired of people trying to take away all the plaudits that South Africa is getting .... They come up with every rubbish thought just to make sure that SA is not seen as the great team they are ... In there time West Indies were good , in there time , Aus was ... this is our time ... and we've earned the plaudits .. We've played everywhere and won , this was on our way to number one ... we've played less tests than any other team and yet still number one ... How much more ruthless do you think we need to be ?

    So people , whoever doesn't like the fact that SA is nummber 1 and a great team as well ... get a life and learn the game of cricket ..

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2013, 10:08 GMT

    42/4 pakistan doing better than at wanderers. Still under pressure.

  • shiva on February 14, 2013, 6:07 GMT

    Smith is one player with least technique when he played his 1st test but learnt the international arena and now became the best captain of RSA Hard wrking guy . Hats off

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