'Best bowling performance of the summer' - Smith
The deciding Test match between South Africa and Sri Lanka swung the way of the hosts as early as the first morning. South Africa were put in to bat and reached lunch on 135 for 2. Before tea on the second day that had become 580 for 4 and the hosts had effectively batted the visitors out of the contest.
Rather than talking up the batting effort, Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, credited his bowlers with fashioning the comprehensive victory. "This was our best bowling performance of the summer," Smith said. "We bowled well as a unit. Yesterday, each guy bowled really well in their spells and we were able to create pressure. It wasn't just one guy bowling outstandingly and picking up seven or eight wickets. All three seamers and Imran [Tahir] worked together in partnerships."
South Africa bowled Sri Lanka out for 239 in their first innings, taking the last eight wickets for 90 runs. After enforcing the follow-on, they managed to nip out four wickets by stumps on the third day and completed the win just after tea on the fourth, sealing their first series win at home since they beat Bangladesh in 2008. They have since drawn home series against England, India and Australia but Smith said they had lacked the ability to close out series.
"We haven't lost too many [series] but we haven't had the killer punch. Durban [where South Africa have lost their last four Tests] was a disappointing moment for us again this summer. It was a big wake-up call for the guys in terms of the standards that we need to produce as a team. But otherwise, the rest has been positive. This win in particular gives us a lot to build on for the year to come."
South Africa embark on a trio of away tours in 2012: they play in New Zealand in February, England in July and Australia in November. Smith said they will draw inspiration from the way they ended the home summer when on the road. "The way we won here was important. We had good partnerships with the bat and the ball, and everything we've been talking about came out strongly."
Although South Africa finished with authority, there are still some unanswered questions about the make-up of their Test squad, particularly with regards to the batting line-up. "At the moment, everyone is finding questions somewhere in a Test match," Smith said. "We just need to build our strength as a team and each guy needs to get strong in his role. There are a few things that need to be cemented."
The same areas that were under scrutiny at the beginning of the series are at the end: the opening berth and the No. 6 slot. South Africa made a change to both for the third Test, dropping Ashwell Prince and moving Jacques Rudolph down the order while replacing him with Alviro Petersen at the top.
Both Petersen and Rudolph had success in their new roles, the former scoring a century and the latter an unbeaten 51. While Petersen fit in seamlessly, Rudolph still has some critics to convince, but Smith said he was pleased with the progress Rudolph made. "I'm sure he was very nervous even though we were in a strong position; you've got to come in and play a certain way. With the changes and everything he must have been nervous and it was great to see him play that way."
The other question mark is the place of Mark Boucher, who did not get an opportunity with the bat at Newlands and dropped a catch in Sri Lanka's second innings. Smith stressed that Boucher is in no danger of being dropped from the team anytime soon, especially not before the tour of England in six months.
"I think that's the first catch I've seen him drop from 10 to 15 metres back. I think he is secure. As a gloveman he has been excellent for us. Overall, in the time that I've played with him, his consistency in taking chances has been excellent. He is ultra-reliable so when he does put down a chance a big thing gets made of it. Going to England, having a really good keeper is going to be the key factor there."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent