Tests separate men from boys
Test cricket is the true measure of the quality of a player. Over five days a player’s skill level, physical conditioning and temperament are examined in every respect. In high profile series between top playing nations there is nowhere to hide, either collectively or individually, over a five-day period.
The modern player still identifies success in the test arena as the ultimate achievement in the game. One-day cricket, as well as the T20 game, has its place but if given the choice most players would select the test arena as the one where they would like to excel the most.
In the recent series we saw numerous examples of players on both sides able to deal with the pressure of test cricket. There were some fine performances from an individual and team perspective on both sides that contributed to the quality of the series.
Australia outplayed South Africa in two of the three test matches and deserved their two-one victory in the series. South Africa had their moment during the second test where they played superbly. They also fought hard on day five of the third test but, on the whole, one has to accept that the better team won.
This is a very important time for South African cricket. Three experienced players have retired within a short space of time. Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and now Graeme Smith formed the core of the team for a very long time and to lose them all virtually within the space of a number of months will have an impact on the functioning of the group.
During my time with Australia, Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh all retired at the same time and it took the team a long time to recover from the loss of such influential players.
It is very important that good decisions are made when moving forward. That process starts in earnest now with the T20 series against Australia, followed by the World T20 in a few weeks’ time.
A number of factors will determine how the Proteas recover from the loss of the above-mentioned players.
First of all, the selection process is key. The respective captains of the test, one-day, and T20 teams needs the best possible combinations at their disposal in the immediate future.
The leadership group of the team, made up of the captains, coaches and team management, has to be highly efficient and competent in respect of preparation, skill and a strategic approach.
Fortunately, in AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, there remains a core group of world-class players around which strong teams can be built. These players in particular need to take over the mantle of Smith, Kallis and Boucher.
It is never an easy time when teams are in a transition phase, particularly in a country where sporting success or failure evoke strong emotional reactions.
Although it is inevitable that the current process will be labelled as a building phase, expectation of success is still realistic. The team is still more than strong enough to compete well against the top teams on the world stage as long as the right process is followed.
It will be interesting to see which of the immensely talented players in the South African squad seizes this opportunity to lead from the front and set a good example for all to follow.