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Smith presented with Test mace

Firdose Moonda

March 28, 2013

Comments: 48 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith receives the ICC Test mace from Vince van der Bijl, Johannesburg, March 28, 2013
Graeme Smith, flanked by Chris Nenzani and Fikile Mbalula, receives the ICC Test mace from Vince van der Bijl © Getty Images
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It has been more than seven months but Graeme Smith still remembers the feel of the second new ball that nestled in his right hand late in the afternoon of August 20, at Lord's.

He remembers the way it moved off the seam after Vernon Philander released it, tempting Matt Prior. He remembers the way England's valiant wicketkeeper moved towards it in an effort to drive. He remembers it taking the edge and then flying to him, low down. He remembers holding on. But most of all he remembers how important it was that he did.

"That last over Vernon bowled, when Matt Prior nicked off, there had been a build-up of pressure up to that point and then it just broke. The last day was ebbing and flowing and then the next ball Steven Finn nicked off to Jacques [Kallis] and we were number one. That's the emotional moment that sits with me," Smith said in Johannesburg, where he received the ICC Test mace and a cheque for US$450,000 for him and his team.

In fact, Smith has been holding the mace ever since South Africa took it off England. They travelled with it to Australia where they retained in even though, as Smith put it, "we could have so easily lost touch of something we worked so hard for," and kept it through home series against New Zealand and Pakistan. The difference now is that South Africa are in possession of it at the ICC's cut-off date for the first time.

Vince van der Bijl, who handed over the prize, recalled that every year since 2009, South Africa have finished in second place. There's no better way to explain how often they have been nearly men than that. For the Test side, that has changed.

South Africa are undefeated in 15 Tests dating back to December 2011 and have not lost a series in four years. They won all five of their home Tests this summer to open the gap between themselves and the nearest challenger, England, to 14 points. Moreover, van der Bijl pointed out that the total number of points South Africa have accumulated to reach No. 1, 128, is significantly more than India, England (both 118) or Australia (110) had when they received the mace in previous years.

"We feel that we belong in this place," Smith said. "It feels more natural than we had it before. We've earned our right to be there and every player wants to achieve more." South Africa's desire seems to set them apart and has played an important role in their current dominance, which is so overwhelming that if the planned Test Championship had taken place this year, they would have been favourites to win it.

Its postponement to 2017 has disappointed many, including Smith, but he hopes the team can maintain their good run to come into contention for it in the future. "It's important we don't take for granted what we have achieved," Smith said. "There is a lot more that is out there for us. Our first challenge is in October against Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. If we can win there, that will be another big stepping stone for us.

 
 
"You have brought hope in the sport of cricket, you have brought hope to the people of South Africa. We are very proud of you" Sports minister, Fikile Mbalula
 

"The Test Championship is still a fair distance away and there is enough ahead of us that we would like to achieve. But if we could get there still as the best team in the world, that would be great. We wish the Test Championship was sooner but it gives us an opportunity to build an even stronger team and we have the opportunity to lead the way next season. We have something special at the moment. Maybe we can talk about legacies in a few years' time."

The country's sports minister, Fikile Mbalula, who was also present at the mace ceremony, believes the building of that dynasty has already begun. "This is history, not in the making, and it something that will be celebrated by generations to come. It is irreversible, it is championship material," he said.

"You have brought hope in the sport of cricket, you have brought hope to the people of South Africa ... We are very proud of you. I have seen you coming back fighting and I have seen that resilience and I hope you can keep that going into the future."

Like many, he thinks the trophy cabinet will only be complete once they triumph in a 50-over tournament. "The only thing we are short of now is the World Cup," Mbalula said. "But it shows in our performance that we are preparing a team that will not choke at the next event but that will stand the test of time."

While the World Cup is held in high-esteem, the importance of Test cricket has been propped up recently. Van der Bijl pointed to the ICC's increasing of the prize money for No. 1 from US$175,000 to US$450,000 this year and Smith talked about the growing interest in the longer format that he has noticed at home.

"The success we've had as a team has impacted on our fans. We can see that in the stadiums and the support," he said, declaring the longest format in good health. "There is a core group of teams that are close in their own conditions, like India are very good at home and New Zealand have shown they are tough in their own conditions.

"It's exciting that you know sport is unpredictable, although we want to be as predictable as possible in that we want to keep winning. But it's great there is so much interest and that Test cricket has gone from strength to strength."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by AKS286 on (March 31, 2013, 14:56 GMT)

Congrats SA !!!! Captain & players well done great job.

Posted by Mambahunter on (March 31, 2013, 5:36 GMT)

We shall see! There is no more Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar is on his last legs! They are coming to SA soon and I can't see their young batting lineup being competitive in the face of Steyn, Philander, Morkel, Kallis, Abbott and De Lange!! There is also not much in the fastbowling reserves for India!!

Posted by sportofpain on (March 30, 2013, 23:01 GMT)

@Mambahunter - but they did. last time in SA was a draw. And in the two previous tours to England before the last one, India beat them in both. And in Australia it was 1-1 in 2003 and 1-2 in 2007 but remember the Sydney loss was 'doctored' and almost led to the tour being abandoned. Let's not speculate - this is a regenerating India with some considerable skill. SA will test them as always but let's just wait and watch.

Posted by AKS286 on (March 30, 2013, 9:06 GMT)

The rookies of Pak team thrashed India in India. Same pak team is thrashed in SA. What Steyn had done in motera's dead dusty pitch everyone knows. Steyn the captain of African Deadly Barrage. Great player does't mean RECORDS it means how you perform in difficult players.The performer in Unfavourable, hard, tough Situations makes you great and Every SA players performed & proves under that situation.

Posted by Mambahunter on (March 30, 2013, 8:56 GMT)

@ sportofpain I disagree, Indian won't take it from the proteas!! They can't buy a series win or draw in SA, Aus or Eng!!

Posted by   on (March 30, 2013, 6:19 GMT)

a top order consisting of the gutsy graeme smith,a man who hasnt scored a 100 in a losing cause,who has always led from the front in crucial run chases..alviro petersen,who has played some big knocks when the others failed to..a middle order comprising of 3 of the biggest names in modern day cricket,amla,kallis and AB..3 match winners..A lower middle order equally hard to break through wid players like faf and jp who can change their game to adapt to the situation..now the last 4 comprises of peterson,philander,steyn n morkel...the pace attack is undoubtedly the best in the world..the no1 and no2 bowlers,and the venomous morne..robbie p can always get u crucial wickets and score some healthy runs...so a side wid batting till almost no 11 and a bowling line,the oppositions shud rly worry about and excellent fielding abilities,they are by far the no 1 team in the world...and the rankings are just a mere reflection of how good they r...

Posted by SL_rockz on (March 30, 2013, 5:20 GMT)

well done SA you deserve to be number 1 .....Respect for you all....pirit of cricket lies in test cricket.....No 1 in tests means you a great in the herat of cricket which ages back to 1800's.....

Posted by SL_rockz on (March 30, 2013, 4:55 GMT)

Beat india ,pak and sri lanka in their own back yard...that is the next challenge ..We SL look forward till you come here to SL....We are so proud we were the most recet team to beat you in your own back yard in level a test series :) .... Yeah by looking at he way you thrashed PAK ,NZ in SA we should be proud coz we won a match damn it :)

Posted by NixNixon on (March 29, 2013, 22:00 GMT)

@Shan156 - thanks for your honesty

Posted by Shan156 on (March 29, 2013, 20:06 GMT)

@SICHO, I am not saying Tsotsobe, DeLange, or Abbott would not become great bowlers. I mean, who am I (or anyone, for that matter) to say that. But, are they already greats as some fans here claim? All I am saying is you cannot judge them based on performances in few tests. Just like how Tsotsobe is not bad because he averages 50 after 5 tests, Abbott cannot be a great because he took wickets at less than 10 runs apiece after 1 test.

Oh, and no one is mad that SA is in this position. I, certainly, am not. They are an excellent team and are deserving #1. I am merely pointing out that not all of SA players are great.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (March 29, 2013, 20:01 GMT)

Love some of the fans from the subcontinent who claim you cant be crowned no.1 until you beat india in India or pak in the uae on their doctored unsporting pitches. What a joke. England thumped india at home and sa beat england. Last time sa played in india and uae, sa drew the series, with a weaker team than they are now. SA cricket doesnt need to prove to anyone anymore why they are no.1, its other teams who have to prove if they are worthy to play SA.

Posted by sportofpain on (March 29, 2013, 19:44 GMT)

@bliksempie: Fully agree with you. Most Aussies (there are a few exceptions of course) just whined incessantly during the India tour - it was one excuse after the other - doctored pitches, no DRS, not our best team blah, blah - with very few acknowledging that they got beaten fair and square. SA are deserving No 1 as were India and even England but most folks were uncharitable esp about India being No. 1. I also think after all the heartbreaking losses in LOI to be No 1 in the biggest competition of all must be gratifying. Enjoy it because it is well deserved. India will take it off you soon though:-)

Posted by AKS286 on (March 29, 2013, 16:34 GMT)

Some people don't read article just comment on others comment. This article is for TEST why to mention Ind is ahead in T20 & Odis. Great Captain means respect seniors, encourage juniors. Maintain peace & discipline in the team. Brave, Courage, Lead from the front, never give up attitude , Don't give excuses on loss, If team is not performing then whole blame goes to Captain BUT if team is NO.1 then why not Captain has to take credit. you can't judge a team on the basis of1-2 series one more thing in cricket there are 11 players.

Posted by NixNixon on (March 29, 2013, 15:21 GMT)

this protea side is better than the ausie side of 2000 and the late west indian side, they have a better bowling attack and also stronger batting line-up

Posted by blink182alex on (March 29, 2013, 13:32 GMT)

I think if you were doing a world 11 at the moment, there would be 7 south africans in it. They are by far and away the best test side at the moment.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (March 29, 2013, 11:41 GMT)

Its time for Africa!!! Graham Smith, most successful captain ever. Kallis the greatest cricketer to ever play the game. AB, Amla, Steyn, philander. Wow, what a team !!!

Posted by diri on (March 29, 2013, 11:15 GMT)

They really are un stoppable indeed...the team is llined with stars from the top to bottom. Smith, kallis ( greatest cricketer of all time) amla, AB, JP, FAF, Steyn, Morkel, Philander. They are the best by far. I feel SA as been the best and most consistent team in the world since 2007/ 2008 when the beat Pakistan, England and Aus in their own backyard. So if you think about is SA has been No.1 for 7 years in most peoples minds!!!!!! the legacy has already begun...Ladies and gents we have a new super power in world cricket....the proteas

Posted by UndertheGrill on (March 29, 2013, 8:07 GMT)

South Africa are far and away the best Test side currently, with their only deficiency being in the spin department, and it's not clear that the Asian sides (were spinning conditions are prevalent) are capable of taking advantage of this. Still their series in the UAE, and home to India should be both entertaining and instructive in this regard.

Posted by SICHO on (March 29, 2013, 7:26 GMT)

who cares if Smith is a "bad" or "defensive" captain as some of the people think, what matters is that he's doing his and doing it very well. Well done skipper and your players, you truly are deserving it. @Shan156 for someone who has been watching cricket for a long time like you, I mean how can you rate a bowler just after 3 matches? Really? Ooh Abbott, yeah sure he only had 1 Match right? Isn't that what people said about Philander at the beginning? "he only had 1 match, he only played on SAF pitches, he only played against weak teams, he'll struggle against England....." blah blah blah. Clearly it makes some folks mad that SA are in this sort of position, but anyway I'm looking forward to that also in the future #PROTEA_POWER

Posted by bliksempie on (March 29, 2013, 6:45 GMT)

Why am I not surprised to see Aussies on here having a whinge when SA is crowned number 1?

SA was lucky and defensive in Aus? Makes sense. I mean, when you bat for nearly 8 hours in making 110* to save a game, it must be all luck. No skill there, clearly. Or when you bowl a team out for 160 odd and then thrash their bowlers for over 7 an over for the next 2 sessions, that sounds pretty defensive to me. Points well made, thanks.

SA doctor their pitches? Sure - when we're at home, we prepare the pitches we like to play on. Like everyone does. Even Australia. But what conveniently isn't mentioned is that we haven't lost an away series for 6 years either, which includes in India. And Australia (but we were just lucky there, right? Twice?).

Aus gloats when it's winning, and cries when it's losing. Boycott is right - Australia is an easy side not to feel any sympathy towards.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2013, 6:33 GMT)

Congrats to SA.They truly deserve the mace & money for what they have achieved.Although initially I was not optimistic that they would perform so well in all conditions but they have erased all the doubts.They have strong reserves as well who can sllowly through exposure can fill in later on.The only department they lack is quality spinner in test cricket,if they can unearth that then they will really be the team to beat in all conditions(INCLUDING SUB CONTINENT).But for the moment they can enjoy the no1 tag.

Posted by rockstarinnellai on (March 29, 2013, 6:21 GMT)

can they keep it later this year vs Pak in UAE. i dont think so..

Posted by OceanSaffa on (March 29, 2013, 5:43 GMT)

@TheBigBudda: No matter what u may think, almost 99% of Test cricket community wil tel u that SA in Aus, however they played, they could not be beat. SA has being playing like this for more than a decade. The thing we lacked was belief. Now that our players have a lot of experience, it even rubs through the younger players, eg. Du Plessis, on debut produced 1 of the innings by a debutant to save a match. U talk about luck, which sport does not need luck to succeed. Come on, even we Saffas dont boast that we have the best players in the world.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2013, 5:36 GMT)

@Shan156

Although the world expects sour grapes from Aussie fans, allow me to use Boycott's words from this very site to paint the picture of why you find yourselves alone:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/video_audio/627035.html

Posted by LordKratos on (March 29, 2013, 5:29 GMT)

Well Done South africa! You truly are the best side on the world! Smashing the Aussies and reminding them that their time has passed and that its time to ink this Saffa side as the the all time best Saffa side. For Australians to start winning they need to stop clingling so badly to the memories of the so called "great aussies" of the last century and start working with the now and here ( some of us weren't even born way back then lol)

Posted by ravi_hari on (March 29, 2013, 4:39 GMT)

For once they overcame the 'chokers' title which they earned for over 2 decades. Undoubtedly the best team in the wolrd for the sheer consistancy they have shown in winning the big games and almost in every country they have visited. I think it all began when they chased down 424 in 50 overs against No. 1 Australia. That moment would have spurred Smith and his men and told them that they can do it. Great effort SA CONGRATULATIONS! However, for others to learn, the reason why SA is No.1 is firstly they all have fit players. Barring a couple of them most of the squad was fully fit all these years. Secondly, atleast 8 to 9 of the squad played in almost all the tests during this period. Thirdly each one took the responsibility to perform and ensure that the team wins. Finally, as someone commented they had the best captain, allrounder, batsmen and bowlers. Lack of a quality spinner was nullified by Steyn and co. I think Amla, Kallis and Philander stand out as the top performers. Kudos SA!

Posted by GermanPlayer on (March 29, 2013, 2:13 GMT)

@Stephen, why, what's so special about playing in SriLanka?

Posted by NishathP on (March 29, 2013, 1:45 GMT)

I cringed at the second paragraph. Overly dramatic writing. But yea, kudos SA. Job well done.

Posted by Shan156 on (March 29, 2013, 0:29 GMT)

@Mambahunter,

"Amazing young talent coming through as well... May it continue!!! "

Funny because this is exactly what the Aussies claimed in their hey days. All those amazing young talent has not really come through, has it? SA is having its days in the sun. But, all of a sudden, you have a few senior players calling it time and then all those young talents would be nowhere to be found. Of course, it is your time, so have fun.

Posted by Wefinishthis on (March 28, 2013, 23:25 GMT)

Congrats to the South African selectors for picking players based on proven performance and a balanced view of the statistics. That's why Philander is in the side and what a difference he's made. The Philander/Steyn combo is simply awesome to watch, but they're there due to good selection policies. Australia currently have at least 5 available batsmen that average over 50 at either FC or Test level, yet only ONE of them (Clarke) currently plays for Australia. Similarly we have so many good bowlers who average low 20's at FC level, yet we pick the ones who average around 30 (Siddle, Starc, MJ, 'haus). We have bowlers who admittedly have played less games, yet have comparable stats to SA's best (Bird/Pattinson/Harris) vs (Philander/Steyn) yet only one is ever picked at the same time (if at all). Furthermore, we have a spinner who averages mid-20's (O'Keefe) and can bat as well, yet he was recently overlooked for a spinner who averages 45-80. The stats don't lie, SA are deserved no.1!

Posted by Shan156 on (March 28, 2013, 23:13 GMT)

"Great captain". How? Why was this great captain unable to win a single test, leave alone a series, against the Aussie team till Messrs. Warne and McGrath were playing. Even after their retirement, this so-called great captain lost both the tests against the visiting Aussies in 2009. If that is because they had not so good players then, then surely he is winning now because he has good players at his disposal. So, surely, he cannot be a great captain. Stephen Fleming, who had minimal talent under him, captained NZ to a 0-0 draw against the all conquering Aussies in Aus. Now, that was a great captain. Not this overhyped Smith.

Posted by Shan156 on (March 28, 2013, 23:06 GMT)

"We've earned our right to be there"

Every team that were #1 before earned the right to be #1 - even England and India who were #1 for a short period of time. They did not become #1 because they were nice or the ICC liked them or something.

"African Deadly Barrage (Steyn, Morkel, Phil, Tsotsobe, Delange, Abbott)"

Understand about Steyn, Morkel, and Philander. But, Tsotsobe? What has he done great in tests? 5 tests, 9 wickets at an average of nearly 50 (yeah, truly remarkable indeed). Same with DeLange (2 tests, 9 wickets but at a much better average of 30.77). Abbott has just played one test. SA fans are truly unbelievable. Alright guys, you are #1, but just because of that don't hype up all your players. If they are really amazing in all formats, how come they are not #1 in all formats. They are an excellent test team, way ahead of the rest but not a great ODI or T20 side. India is way superior to them in ODIs.

Posted by   on (March 28, 2013, 22:11 GMT)

i long for the tests in India, against India. When we win that, we can then proclaim to be the top pf the mantle.

Posted by Rici737 on (March 28, 2013, 21:44 GMT)

Great captain. congratulations to Mr. Angelo Mathews.

Posted by   on (March 28, 2013, 20:57 GMT)

An unbeatable team in any place : Smith,Peterson,Amla,Kallis,Devilliers,DuPlessis,Duminy,Peterson,Steyn,Philander,M.Morkel,A.Morkel,Ingram,Tsotsobe,DeKnock,Parnell

Posted by   on (March 28, 2013, 20:00 GMT)

Who needs world cup when you have the test mace? hope saf will keep this for a long time unlike india or england.

Posted by darsh127 on (March 28, 2013, 19:56 GMT)

Yes, S. Africa are truly #1 at the moment, but until their next tour to india or uae, I will not say they are in an era of dominance such as W.Indies or Oz.

Posted by T.R.GHANCHI on (March 28, 2013, 19:31 GMT)

Well done Smith and South Africa! I want to see how they play in the sub-continent. But I am sure this team is capable of beating teams anywhere, anytime and on any pitch!

Posted by Surajdon9 on (March 28, 2013, 17:54 GMT)

You Richly deserved that....

Posted by Mambahunter on (March 28, 2013, 17:47 GMT)

What a team the Proteas have become... I'm such a proud supporter. Wonderful captain, best batting lineup and best fast-bowling line-up by far. Then there is AB de Villiers, best wicketkeeper/batsmen on the planet. Amazing young talent coming through as well... May it continue!!!

Posted by DeckChairand6pack on (March 28, 2013, 17:17 GMT)

So proud of the Green Machine! Richly deserved, the Proteas have earned this. Even sweeter to see Big Vince handing our mace over. October cannot come soon enough, I have no doubt we will compete strongly. Until then we have the ashes snore fest to contend with.

Posted by   on (March 28, 2013, 16:54 GMT)

Pity they arent playing in Sri Lanka

Posted by AKS286 on (March 28, 2013, 16:48 GMT)

Great Team, Great Players, Great captain. Absolute deserves. SA holds the No.1 position with lots of labour, passion & respect; and justifies this position. Great contributions by batsmen, African Deadly Barrage (Steyn, Morkel, Phil, Tsotsobe, Delange, Abbott) and last but BIG AB. Batting + WK in all format really amazing.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (March 28, 2013, 16:32 GMT)

The UAE will be tough, but the likes of AB and Amla proved themselves there in 2010 (although pitches will prob turn more). In some ways the recent test against Pakistan in Cape Town on a bit of a turner will have given them some pointers on what to improve.

The fact that SA haven't lost a home series since 2008 and an away series since 2006 is quite incredible. In this era where teams are stronger in home conditions it will be hard to maintain.

Posted by   on (March 28, 2013, 16:11 GMT)

Robbie is doing a fair job at this moment, but not sure how long he can do? One match winning( not just contending) quality spinner and quick development of players like Miller, Ingram, Elgar.. and SA has all in it to hold the position for long. One player needs special care though, ABD. World cricket cannot afford to loose someone like him to stress, fatigue or injury.

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (March 28, 2013, 16:04 GMT)

Great acheivement by South Africa they are really the best test team by far. SA has attained the standards of australia of 2000 now and i believe they can stay at top of test ranking for next two to three years. This is all because of anti chock AB devliers and great batsman Hashim Amla and new great bowler phelinder.

Posted by Deepakrio278 on (March 28, 2013, 15:50 GMT)

If the Proteas can beat Pakistan or draw like the last tour in the U.A.E it will be great and they can extend their run as no.1 as the series that follow will be at home.This is a challenge for the test team and i hope they start planning for that as early as june. Congratulations on the win SA...I Hope their reign continues as long as it can..

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