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Cricket | South Africa

Gary Kirsten and Graeme Smith © Gallo Images

Proteas target staying No 1

The Proteas ended 2012 undefeated in test match cricket, a feat not often achieved by cricketing nations.

A series clinching victory of Sri Lanka at Sahara Park Newlands in January was followed up with a 1-0 series win in New Zealand, a 2-0 series win over England and ended off with the latest success Down Under.

Ten test matches in a calendar year, nine away from home, and four series victories! "It's been an incredible year, we set our sights on becoming the No 1 team in the world and then to hold that position," coach Gary Kirsten said at a press conference at Newlands on Wednesday.

"We accomplished two very big targets this year, which was England and Australia, which was a massive performance, now we will set our sights on holding that position," he added.

Many people are starting to believe that the current crop of players are the greatest team ever to represent South Africa. Kirsten said that "it is difficult to compare, I think the players themselves are reluctant to compare. But if you look at their achievements, they are certainly up there."

"This team wants to leave a legacy. It is a very special occasion for the Proteas and South African cricket and this should not be taken lightly, what this team has been able to achieve over a sustainable period of time, has been nothing short of remarkable," remarked Kirsten.

The Proteas have dug themselves into deep holes on many occasions, and have found the resolve to come through and fight back. "There is a maturity about this group of players and maturity in our preparation," said Graeme Smith, the Proteas test captain.

"Credit must go to the players that have stepped up in high pressure situations to not only save a test match, but to also go and play the dominant style of test cricket that they are capable of," added Kirsten.

South African cricketers have always been known as fighters. Being able to come back from almost impossible situations to save or win a test match, but have also been known to capitulate under pressure. This group has an aura about them that makes one believe that they are different.

"This is a team that South Africa can be proud of. They go about their business in a very humble way. They play for the badge and their country in a way that I have never seen before," said Kirsten. A big statement coming from the man who led India to the No 1 test ranking and a 50-over World Cup crown.

Smith said that he has no long term goals on his position within the team. "As long as I feel that I can add value as a captain within this environment, lead the guys in the best way possible, then there is no reason for me to walk away," said Smith.

The position of the world's best allrounder, Jacques Kallis, became a talking point during the tour of Australia, when he injured himself bowling in the second test. It is a burning question in all cricketing fans' minds that 'King Kallis' is irreplaceable.

"Jacques is loving his cricket at the moment and wants to keep playing. But we have been encouraged by the players coming through. Faf (Du Plessis) and Rory (Kleinveldt) did exceptionally well, and with Jacques not there, it might affect our balance a bit, but it was nice to see him play just as a batsman," commented Kirsten.

The Proteas continue their defence of the No 1 world ranking in the new year, when they face off against New Zealand in a two-match test series, beginning on 2 January.


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