Cranking things up to another level
Most extremely successful sporting teams have one distinct quality in common and it is such a desirable trait that all elite teams strive to achieve it. If I reflect back on what has largely been a summer of excellence it is clear that the South African cricket team has now straddled an important hurdle and joined that privileged bunch.
My reference regarding this newly-acquired element dates back to mid-year 2012 when the test team triumphantly wrestled the crown from England. It was then that I witnessed this unique ability for the first time and it gratifyingly continued in Australia, was rampant against New Zealand, and was at the forefront of superiority when in battle against hapless Pakistan.
The South Africa red-ball team now have the ability, which is supported superbly by exceptional skill levels, to identify a crucial juncture of a test match and ramp up their game significantly to acquire pole position in a contest. When this is done effectively, as it was over the last nine months, it has a debilitating effect on the opposition and renders them demoralised and merely playing a game of catch-up.
The Oval test courtesy of Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla comes to mind, as well as Amla and AB de Villiers when conquering frantically in Perth. Vernon Philander destroyed New Zealand in Cape Town and Dale Steyn lit a flame at the Wanderers test against Pakistan. Again Amla and AB championed magnificently during the Pink Drive game but possibly the purest example witnessed during the summer was Steyn in the decider against Pakistan in the one-day series in Benoni.
I was privileged to witness a boundary line conversation between Allan Donald and Dale Steyn when a lull had descended over proceedings for a period of seven overs and Pakistan were staging a threatening comeback with some experienced batting in the middle. A far from amused Donald told the flame-thrower in no uncertain terms that things were progressing unsatisfactorily and demanded that Steyn change the game!
From the termination of that terse conversation Steyn decided to rip into Younis Khan and deliver a fierce barrage of both pace and verbal rarely seen. Although in green clothing, it evoked memories of Donald himself at Trent Bridge against Atherton in 1998. Following the completion of Steyn’s intense onslaught of which there was only ever one winner, the pulse of the game altered completely and he had single-handedly reversed the momentum and smashed Pakistan’s aspirations.
That captivating spell was an ideal snapshot of how South Africa and its premier performers have now perfected the art of instantly stepping up to influence outcomes when opportunity is presented.
It has been a massively rewarding distinction that screams excellence.