Delight in conquering Down Under...again
The tour of Australia, after a rather inauspicious start, has ended exactly as the Proteas and South African cricket supporters would have wanted. South Africa is still top of the tree in test match cricket and cemented their position in a country that is known for its toughness when playing as a visiting team. With their second consecutive series win down under, the Proteas may well open a gap between them and the chasing pack. They have the opportunity to do so in a season that sees New Zealand and Pakistan visit South Africa.
As Australia tackle the huge situation they have in trying to fill the gaping hole that is left by Ricky Ponting, a legend of the game, who retired at the end of the series against South Africa in Perth, South Africa have a more pleasant problem which is how to juggle and fit in the talent that they have available.
The South Africa test match team is one that has been successful for a considerable period of time – the No 1 ranking is a direct reflection of that. It has been aided by the stability and consistency of selection, with players getting a good run in the side and performing very well. In terms of selection, there are a few issues that need to be dealt with in the next little while: Jacques Kallis playing as a batsman only, AB de Villiers keeping, and whether or not to have seven specialist batsmen.
It is said that one does not know a good thing until it’s gone. Well, that could surely be said of South Africa’s greatest cricketer, Jacques Kallis. In the time that he has run in and bowled, churned out heaps of runs and taken plenty of catches at first slip, it has been considered the norm for the team. However, it really is a luxury that no other team in the world enjoys as there is no other player of the same ilk. Some may bat as well as he does (very few) and others may bowl or catch as successfully as he does but none do all of it. He is a one of a kind, a once in a generation cricketer.
The Proteas will try to prolong his career and to do that they must be happy with him scoring lots of runs and catching at slip without having to bowl at all lest he breaks down, as happened in Adelaide. That scenario puts a bit more pressure on the bowling attack as their workload is increased. It therefore follows that AB de Villiers plays in the side as a wicketkeeper/batsman in order to provide an open spot for selecting the seventh batsman or the fifth bowler. It is a decision that will be made by the selectors which may change from time to time depending on conditions.
While Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers have long cemented their places in the batting order, there are a couple of guys who will be trying to make sure that they can grab the No 6 slot for themselves. Jacques Rudolph played himself out of contention in Australia and the injury to JP Duminy opened the door for Faf du Plessis to make a case for himself. He has made a pretty strong one. There is Dean Elgar also who had a cruel first test match but may well get another opportunity somewhere down the line.
It seems that Australia is the place where South Africa’s young talent is thrust in and tested. Just think back to Duminy bursting onto the scene and starring in two test match wins in a row to start his test career. This time around, Faf du Plessis (ironically in place of Duminy who also got his chance due to injury) was the architect of a great escape in Adelaide and also helped the team hugely by getting 78 not out in the first innings in Perth.
The dynamics of the team might well change because of the adjustments that must be made but it is without doubt the perception everywhere that the Proteas leave the shores of Australia even stronger than they were before arriving. Not to lose in either of the first two test matches was impressive and showed determination and mental strength, but to win in the way that they did in Perth exhibited to the world the champion qualities that the South Africa team possesses.
They will be even tougher to beat going forward after experiencing their double Down Under conquering delight.