Proteas a cut above the rest
When one looks back at the way things transpired in the just-concluded three-test series between England and South Africa, there are some important passages of play that separated the sides on the field of play and allowed the Proteas to conquer and end up top of the world.
Often when one looks at a team, there is often the sentiment that some are not pulling their weight, and in victory there is one star or a few key performers who pull the side through. But you couldn't say that of the series triumph of the Proteas in England. As I look back on it, every single player in the team contributed towards the team’s success at one time or another.
While Graeme Smith’s 100th test match at The Oval will be remembered for The Mighty Hash’s magnificent record 311 not out, I would like to point to the second morning of that match when Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander combined to stifle England who had begun the day on 267 for 3. Their stranglehold precipitated a collapse of sorts and gave South Africa momentum, which continued in the batting as they amassed 637.
Not many batsmen got a chance to do much in that game with the bowlers coming to the fore a second time in England’s second innings. Going into the test match there was discussion and debate on how AB de Villiers would fare behind the stumps, and what a response. He took five catches in his very first outing despite a hiccup here and there. Imran Tahir would have enjoyed cleaning up the tail rather efficiently as that is his job in the side.
The second test match at Headingley was a hard-fought affair on a pitch that certainly assisted the fast bowlers in the beginning. Alviro Petersen’s 182 was invaluable and his partnership of 120 with the captain was just what the team needed to start things off and build on the psychological wounds that The Oval test would have caused England. There were runs also from AB de Villiers and JP Duminy down the order that took South Africa past 400.
Kevin Pietersen’s 149, and partnership of 173 with debutant James Taylor, was the biggest part of England's response, and it took Morne Morkel to break the partnership and ensure that they did not take the advantage in the match. Injuries to both openers and Kallis had the game and the series hanging in the balance when the second innings came around.
It was Jacques Rudolph who stepped up into the opening slot and got a half-century in another first-wicket partnership of 120. That Rudolph is versatile and can bat at the top of the order too is an advantage for the Proteas, and his 69 was very important.
Then there was Lord’s where the star of the show was Vernon Philander, but one cannot discount the mammoth contributions of Rudolph and Duminy when SA were 54-4 in a match in which the Proteas had to avoid defeat. The tail wagged and 309 was a more-than-credible total in the first innings. The match swung to and fro ever so slightly over the first four days, but heading into the final day, Philander’s two scalps late on day 4 had swung it South Africa’s way.
The final day of the series played out rather dramatically but, truth be told, the odds were very heavily stacked against England. It was almost inconceivable that England would get up. What was most impressive for me is that for every blow that the England team struck, the South African team had an answer and a comeback. They were able to dig deep and hang in there when it was required, as well as turn the screws when it was appropriate in order to press home an advantage.
For South Africa to win 2-0 took a huge effort and showed that there is a rather big gap between the two teams. One also needs to add to that the fact that England have been formidable in their own backyard in recent times: they had not lost a test match at Lord's for 13 test matches going back to July 2005.
South Africa proved to be the better team and despite how small the gap may look, it actually is quite a big one.
Congratulations to the Proteas on their emphatically attained new No 1 status. They deserve to be top of the world.