Proteas’ win ranks with greats
Sport24 Chief Writer Rob Houwing (File)
Cape Town - Placed in its context, South Africa’s crushing triumph by an
innings in the first Test against England at The Oval ought to go down
among their most illustrious ever - especially if they now go on to earn
a second successive series triumph on those shores.
was just about as imperious as it gets for our country’s Test
cricketers, remembering that the match began with some question marks
around the Proteas’ preparedness after coming out of the domestic
mid-winter, England’s widely revered status as current world No 1, and
the sobering fact also that they had never previously lost to these
particular tourists at the venue.
Andrew Strauss’s buoyant -
well, at the time - side slightly bossing the first day’s play might
only have added to angst in certain South African quarters last Thursday
Instead, as a former home captain, Mike Atherton,
ruefully admitted in commentary after the game was wrapped up in some
style by the tourists on Monday, England were largely “pulverised from
days two to five”.
The humungous headline act in this Test may
have been Hashim Amla, with his maiden triple-ton by any South African
batsman, but just as pleasing in many respects was the broad team effort
that went into the victory on a pitch that did require a fair bit of
old-fashioned sweat both at the crease and in the field to achieve a
So much, frankly, was simply so satisfying for
Proteas enthusiasts, including the fact that two blue-chip warriors who
entered the series with tiny, barely-deserved yet niggling reservations
about their Test records in England - Jacques Kallis with blade and Dale
Steyn with ball - delivered fulsomely in their respective specialist
There was also a colossal personal statement of series
intent from captain Graeme Smith, who traditionally adores batting in
that country, often breaking home hearts in the process, and achieved
the delightful outcome of a century in his 100th appearance in this
He will deserve every second of his hiatus from
the tour as he returns home for the birth of his first child, aided by a
gap of nearly two weeks until the second of the three Tests at Leeds,
where South Africa can target an early series kill and theft of
England’s top-dog status.
Here’s something else to chew on: if
you had said to AB de Villiers before the first encounter that he would
be assuming wicket-keeping duties in a match where the Proteas would
concede as many as 82 extras (43 and then a second-innings 39), and he
would not trouble the scorers with his bat, he might have been well
entitled to say “no thanks, I’m not up for this, even if this is our
hour of sudden need”.
But the stats say so little, in fact, about
his mostly admirable showing behind the stumps on a pitch which made
the trade hazardous at times. Mark Boucher would have had one or two
hairy moments as well, for all his time-honoured and now sadly ceased
Yes, De Villiers would have been quietly gutted to have
put down a relatively simple chance off Imran Tahir’s multi-trick
bowling from the resolute Ian Bell on Monday - it didn’t prove massively
expensive - but there were few other genuine gremlins from him over the
course of a mentally and physically gruelling match.
Only 13 of
those afore-mentioned 82 “sundries” came in byes, with a swollen quota
of no-balls, wides and leg-byes - which the gloveman is usually
powerless to prevent - just indicative of a bowling line-up not fully
re-acclimatised to the cares of Test cricket after several months off.
does anyone need reminding that De Villiers only left The Oval
scoreless with the willow because he was not even required at No 5 as
South Africa’s lone scorecard was the sort to place with pride in a
frame above a bar counter back home: let’s say it again and again ...
637 for two declared!
With there having been some good reason for
people to fear that the first Test might prove the Proteas’ toughest of
the trio, instead it is England now shrouded in angst and requiring at
least some measure of introspection after this ego-bruising.
South Africa warm to the short series challenge ever more proficiently -
at least that is what they will hope is to happen - several initially
England-favouring neutrals (notably someone like Shane Warne) are
beginning to change their tunes with stealth.
The next Test
ground of Headingley will not hold any special fears for Smith’s side:
South Africa have won both of their last two fixtures there, in 2008 (by
10 wickets) and 2003 (by 191 runs).
There have been no draws there, incidentally, in 12 Tests since Pakistan shared the honours with England back in 1996.
if the Proteas can stave off complacency and inconsistency, flaws that
they have worked hard to remedy over the past year or two, the planets
just seem to be aligning themselves quite nicely for them ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing