South Africa v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Centurion, 3rd day February 24, 2013

South Africa focused on beating complacency

South Africa had won the series and enhanced their No. 1 ranking before the Centurion Test against Pakistan, but they were in no mood to relent

As testament to how committed South Africa were to not easing up for the dead rubber in Centurion, one needed to look no further than Jacques Kallis. On the eve of the Test, he turned up for his first optional practice in years, according to most of his team-mates.

As it transpired, Kallis injured his calf while training and missed the match, but that paved the way for Kyle Abbott to make a memorable nine-wicket debut and contribute to South Africa's whitewash of the series, something they don't usually achieve.

South Africa have not had to play many Tests where the result would have no bearing on their series. The last time that happened was in Australia in 2008-09. They are used to pressure at Test level and, unlike in limited-overs cricket, it has not been their undoing.

This time, South Africa faced the challenge of complacency. With the series won and the No.1 ranking secure, they were the side that had nothing to lose, but they didn't want to lose and that was the difference.

"To win so convincingly in this Test was important," Graeme Smith said, after his team beat Pakistan by an innings inside three days. "In matches like this, it's very easy to be soft or not to give commitment to the cause. Even if you are 10% off your game at this level, then you are not going to be able to produce a performance. To see our batsmen front out and our bowlers put in the hard yards shows good signs as a team. It shows we are hungry and we have good determination."

It was to South Africa's benefit that they had two young and unestablished players coming into the XI. Rory Kleinveldt and Kyle Abbott were both keen to stake their claim as next in line and they succeeded to different degrees. Kleinveldt bowled well with little reward in his first spell of the first innings and again in the second, while Abbott had a dream debut.

Abbott said complacency was the buzzword used in the build-up to the match and Smith confirmed the management wanted to zero in on it. "This team is about maturity and professionalism. The focus has been good. The guys understand what it takes and have been preparing that way."

The upshot was South Africa winning all their Tests in the home summer. The last time they achieved that was in 2002-03, when they beat Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in two Tests each to finish 6-0. Smith had only just started his career then and is certain the team he is charge of now is better than the one he first made mark in then. "I've said before that this is the best team I have played in as a South African cricketer but that doesn't mean they won't be big challenges ahead." That realisation is what makes this side more grounded than teams of the past.

Their ability to be ruthless in an efficient rather than over-enthusiastic manner is another difference. South Africa have a reputation for playing the game hard. Now, they play hard and methodically. "We've managed to play a positive brand of cricket," Smith said. "We've been on the front foot but it has not been a brash style of cricket, it's a clinical one."

The surgical chopping up of opposition is something South Africa developed abroad - they have been unbeaten overseas since 2006 - and Smith was keen to apply that at home. "Coming back from a long time on the road, we could have taken it easy home but we wanted to play well here," Smith said.

Crowds in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Centurion got to experience their champion side. Durban lost out, but through their televisions they would have seen that perhaps South Africa will return to Kingsmead stronger than before. Next season will be the Test of that. Stadium attendances were higher than in previous seasons and attention on the team was greater because of their success.

Milestones piled up, especially for Smith, who is now the darling leader, having spent much of his decade in charge fighting the tide. His own relaxed nature is proof that he is finally comfortable in his own space. "Everything is a stepping stone to the next. It's about making sure you stay focused, respect the position you are in and the people you come up against. It hasn't been easy but I am confident and happy with the way I have been able to handle the pressure of the job. The inner strength and support I've had is something I am extremely proud of."

He wants more. Smith is no longer the man who wanted to walk away from leadership after the 2011 World Cup. He is now the captain that wants to sail the ship into unchartered territory. Although he says the word "dynasty" was not taught to him at school, he knows he is building one.

"We'd love to win as the South African team. We'd love to play the game hard, in the right spirit and challenge all around the world. I'd love to look back one day and see that we were part of something special. And for as long as I can, I want to make the most of it."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ndumiso on February 25, 2013, 20:34 GMT

    Elgar barely deserves 3. He's mostly come in when there was little or no pressure yet he hasn't made a mark in the series. He needs to do a lot better to make the selectors keep him in when duminy returns.

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2013, 14:23 GMT

    SportsforYouth: SA beat England 2-0 in England recently.

  • Cricket on February 25, 2013, 14:13 GMT

    @ 4cricketluv : As far as Pakistan is concerned, they can forget beating and Team like SA, that too in their own backyard as long as they are carrying around bowlers like UMAR GUL and terming them as "the spearhead". According to me Umar Gul cannot make it into the NZ team as of today. In bowler friendly conditilons and pacey and bouncey wickets, Gul took 5 wickets in 2 tests at an average of 46.80.

    Now for the T20's & ODI's they have also added W.Riaz, who is worst than Gul. And the biggest problem is that Misbah will give all the games to Gul & Riaz. If that was not sufficient then put Kamran Akmal in the mix and you got the perfect reciepie of two more white washes.

    I mean were the selectors sleeping when Kamran showed how pathetic he was against India. In that context what can you expect from Kamran against SA. Styen Gun will get him with a single bullet (delivery).


  • Cricket on February 25, 2013, 13:32 GMT

    @ 4cricketluv : South Africa are the no.1 team. They are no.1 because they probably have best bowling attack in the world as of today. They definately have the strongest battting in Kallis, Amla, Devilers, Smith etc. And without a shadow of doubt they have the best fielding. Now according to me the conditions & pitch wont matter too much. Infact the whole talk about sub-continent is nonesense. The Pakistani bowlers cannot take 20 SA wickets, even in UAE, period. Also their bowlers dont get much help from the fielders. Pakistani batsmen will struggle to get past the 250 mark, even in UAE, period.

    What I would like to see is a clash between England & SA, whether in Eng or in SA does not matter.

    As far as Pakistan are concerned, they are better-off playing against NZ, Bang, Zim, Ireland and to some extent SL.


  • Edward on February 25, 2013, 12:02 GMT

    I have to echo the sentiments of "edgie". As soon as it appeared that South Africa would dominate the test series, people started commenting on the "so-called subcontinent", implying that they would not cope under those conditions. People seem to forget that they have an excellent away record and it includes the sub-continent. Of course, I would like to see what South African bowlers, Vernon Philander in particular, do on sub-continent pitches. What makes a great team is their ability to adapt to pitches the world over as cricket is a world game. This South African team is currently the best team in the world and I am sure they do not want to be compared to other teams of the past... just recognise them in this period for what they are. In a few years time we can look back at them and put their place in the time they have operated in perspective. I feel that comparing them to teams of the past is just an effort by some to diminish the glamour and status of their current performance.

  • Cricket on February 25, 2013, 8:35 GMT

    Regarding UMAR GUL, I am happy that finally he got inured. Infact I think that he has been dropped. Because in the first Two matches that he has played, he has taken only 5 wickets at an average of 46.80.

    So We have good reasons to believe that he had been dropped in the 3rd test. Since the last 30 months or more, Gul has been a permanent fixture from one end, & that too in all the formats. Thus bocking out one spot for all the younsters. And Finally when it mattered he worst the worst of the lot. All the younster have looked miles ahead of him in this series. Even in all the series prior to this Junaid and Cheema have impressed me more.

    But however, now this should mark the end of Umar Gul from the Test teams. But I am not sure if the PCB will ever learn this lesson because now for the ODI's & T20's the horrible Wahab Riaz is back.


  • Cricket on February 25, 2013, 8:28 GMT

    As far as lack of practice matches and also the lack of Match practice is concerned, it is totally the fault of PCB.

    But the most important fault in the selection process and Misbah's final eleven is concerned, they multiplied this problem by playing all failures in the last 30 months. From one end Gul was a fixture. At the other end we had M.Sami, W.Riaz, Sohoil Tanvir, A.Cheema, Junaid K. & Tanvir Ahmed. Out of which Only Junaid was a deserving younster who cemented his place. Cheema, Junaid & Tanvir Ahmed were being alternated for no fault of theirs. Inspite of giving a decent performace one of these guys would be dropped in the next match and the other would be played. How do you expect to find good younsters like this. Luckily Junaid managed to cement his place but got injured in this series.


  • Aman on February 25, 2013, 8:18 GMT

    What a mismatch series, i see SA fans being very proud of their team which they should be by all means but i am sure even they would have wanted a competative series after Newzealand disaster, what boring one sided test cricket not good for the game, feel for so many SA and PAK supporters who turned out to watch these test matches, what i am also dissapointed is to see PAK fans saying let the limited overs series come as if test cricket does not matter to them at all, so i say why not just give them tests in UAE and not anywhere else otherwise this current PAK team would lead test cricket to death from front, Kindly note Srilanka and India did win test matches on their last tours and Pakistan have not even competed. After the India series(2 T20 AND 3 ODIS)every one was saying what fantastic bowling attack Pakistan has, no i dont feel that, i think they have one of the worst bowling attacks in the world except classy ajmal. Still want this PAK team to imporve for the sake of tests.

  • Simon on February 25, 2013, 6:12 GMT

    This is as good if not better than the best cricket team SA have had. Pakistans team are ok but inexperienced and don't get enough test cricket. Their top bowlers are suspended and Misbah is their go to man. It is not Pakistans best ever team by a long way. The game of cricket is a lot more interesting with fast and slow bowlers gainfully employed. In cricket India has never quite understood this fact.

  • Stanton on February 25, 2013, 6:05 GMT

    Soem food for thought. People are talking about how SA will cope overseas, specailly sub-continent, yet MANY people have quickly forgotten that the Proteas have not lost a series in India for a decade, and the last time they toured Pakistan/UAE, they didn't loose that series either. Therefore that tells you that while SA have not won easily, they have not lost either. YET sub-continent teams have ALL lost when touring SA, which shows that SA are getting use to pplaying in sub-continent and learning, yet sub-continent teams are not learning at all. Therefore, SA r deserivng no 1 in tests, hands down, and even hold thier own in conditions NOT suited for their stle of play. A real pity the proteas are not playing test until october, think the SA cricket board should have insisted the test series aginst Sri Lanka continue, and seriously, Sri Lanka needs the tests to improve their own test team.

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