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Challenge now is to maintain focus


Such is the strength of the Proteas test combination at present that it is difficult to see where the next real challenge in the five-day version of the game is going to come from.

The third test match starts on Friday against Pakistan at SuperSport Park, but after that, test cricket goes on the back burner for a number of months. Next summer is a busy one with Australia coming to South Africa during the early part of the season followed by India. A lot can happen in the space of a few months in the professional sporting world but as things stand at the moment, neither the Aussies nor the Indians will present an undue threat to the world's No 1 test team.

We were always expecting the Proteas to beat Pakistan on home soil. During the first test match at the Wanderers conditions were typically South African. There was plenty of pace and bounce on offer and the Pakistan team was blown away.

The surface at Newlands for the second test was very different from the normal one we have seen there over the past couple of seasons. The pitch prepared for the second test was dry and slow and almost resembled sub-continent conditions. This may have been done to prolong the test match.

Under these circumstances, South Africa's victory inside four days was a very good effort. Understandably Pakistan were more at home under these conditions and competed better than they had at the Wanderers. The four-wicket victory by South Africa flattered Pakistan to some degree because the win was more convincing than the scoreline suggested. The fact is that the South African combination were able to adjust to the unusual surface that they were presented with and still found a way to beat Pakistan convincingly.

Spare a thought for Saeed Ajmal. His ten-wicket haul in the test match was a superb performance. There is no doubt that he is the best finger spinner in world cricket at the moment. Unfortunately for him and the Pakistan team, he had very little support. Batting was always going to be a problem for Pakistan on this tour but the feeling was that the bowling attack would be better and that the Pakistan pace bowlers would test the South African top order.

This hasn't happened and Ajmal was left to fight his own personal battle with the powerful South African batting line-up. It was a one-man band and even though he won the a number of personal duels he needed someone else to step up to the plate and support him as far as the wickets column was concerned. It was a joy though to watch him display his considerable skill.

The challenge for the Proteas is to retain motivation and focus in order to maintain the high standards they have set. They are winning very easily at the moment through the professional approach that they have in place. There is no threat to their No 1 position in the test arena at the moment. The team management and the players themselves will have to challenge one another both individually and collectively to set even higher standards. This is what the successful West Indies team of the eighties and the Australian teams of the nineties did so well. Even though few opposition teams mounted serious challenges to their superiority, they did so themselves by an endless hunger to set the bar higher and perform better.

This is a very good time for the Proteas and one that should be enjoyed by the players and the fans alike. It won't last forever – a successful run like this never does – so let's enjoy the success while we can. I have a feeling we will be able to do so for quite a while to come.


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