SA humble in victory, England gracious in defeat
South African captain Graeme Smith admitted that winning a test series in England for the second time was even better than doing so in 2008, the first time South Africa had managed the feat since isolation.
“Coming back and doing it again is a better feeling. It’s hard to replace all the special memories of 2008 but to come here again, with England ranked No 1 and so strong in their home conditions, is one of the great achievements in my career,” Smith said after his team had clinched a nail-biting win by just 51 runs at Lord’s on Monday.
“Everyone contributed when they needed to. Hashim’s hundred was obviously vital but the tail-end partnerships were vital when we were in trouble, the catching was special and the allround bowling effort was faultless.”
Andrew Strauss was typically generous in defeat: “ We're all bitterly disappointed. There was always going to be a lot to do, it was an outstanding test match but South Africa played the better cricket, not just today but throughout the series, and they've deserved to win. Losing our No 1 ranking is a bitter pill to swallow,” Strauss said.
“I'm very proud of the guys for the commitment, desire and effort they showed. The catching is one area to improve – South Africa put us under pressure. We've got to look at what went wrong and how we can improve. It's very hard to let the mace go as we worked so hard to get it, but we can't disagree that South Africa played better in the series."
Smith was reluctant – or unable – to digest the impact of becoming world No 1 in the immediate aftermath of victory: “Just coming to England and winning the series two-nil is enough for the moment, getting to No 1 in the world will take a bit longer to sink in. Tomorrow and the next couple of days will be the time to let that start sinking in and to enjoy that achievement,” Smith said.
“To have these achievements and milestones is fantastic but sometimes you just need to let the cricket do the talking, we need time to reflect. We need to have a strong enough base to know that when the wind blows, it doesn’t blow us over. We need to ensure we have enough bowling depth to have players who can come in and play at this level,” Smith said.
“It’s been an amazing test match – England had to come out and play as a draw wasn't going to help their cause, we had a few moments of drama but we held our nerve and the way Vernon bowled was incredible. I hope there's better to come. We're a team that's growing – a few of us have been playing together for three or four years, hopefully we can get better but this series was phenomenal.
"It's not even about the mace, to be frank - we've won a series in England as we did here last time, but despite being world No 1, it's just begun for us as we've got some big challenges to come."
Matt Prior, who threatened to engineer one of the game’s greatest fightbacks, was understandably downbeat: "It always hurts more when you get so close. Jonny Bairstow started it off for us, then Broady played some good shots. When I was 'caught' and then ‘not out’ I thought it might have been my day, but it wasn't to be. Congratulations to the South Africa team, they played brilliantly all series.
“We said that we were going to go down fighting – it's almost a case of drawing a line under the last few months and starting again. To be honest, South Africa beat us at our own game – they got the ball moving, they batted long and they took their catches, which is what we had been doing for a couple of years. This is one of the toughest weeks this England team has had to deal with, so to come out fighting was great.”