Cape Town – A strong sense of national pride goes a long way
to explaining South Africa’s ascension to No 1 Test side in the world and some
keynote away series successes recently, says coach Gary Kirsten.
Speaking at a joint media briefing with captain Graeme Smith
at Newlands here on Wednesday following the triumphant tour of Australia,
Kirsten, who boasts 101 Test caps of his own over an 11-year period between
1993 and 2004, said: “This a team South Africa can be proud of.
“They go about their business in a very humble way and
they’ve achieved success in different ways and in different conditions.
“They’re a very mature bunch of individuals ... they play
for the Proteas badge in a way I’ve never seen before.”
Asked by Sport24 how good their prospects were, considering
the current Test landscape worldwide, of staying top of the pile for a really
significant period, he said: “It’s certainly something we’ve set our sights on.
“It’s been an incredible year and it requires time now for
the players to reflect on it for a period – albeit very short because we’re
playing again in a few weeks.
“We wanted to become No 1 team in the world and then to hold
that position. We accomplished two very big targets this year which was England
and Australia; just a massive performance from the players and now we will set
our sights on how we can hold that position.
“It is important to us – we do want to leave a legacy
behind. What this team has achieved over a pretty sustained period now has been
nothing short of remarkable.
“Credit to the players for stepping up in high-pressure
situations to not only save Test matches but also play the sort of dominant
cricket we are capable of playing.”
Smith, asked to explain why his charges seemed to play more
comfortably away from home than any other side, replied: “I think there’s a
maturity around the group. Having the players to perform around the world is a
key factor; the guys who have the games to adapt to all conditions.
“There’s a maturity in our preparation and knowledge of how
to be successful away from home – that is the biggest thing.
“When you go to someone else’s country you’ve got to figure
out ‘OK, how do we win here?’ and ‘how do I deal with the pressures of
performing in front of their media, their crowds?’
“I think the group we’ve got has certainly handled that
very, very well.”
Having dropped some hints at least a year ago that he was
contemplating stepping down from the leadership at some point to focus solely
on his batting for the first time in many years, Smith joked when asked if
there had been a change of heart more recently.
“I was telling Gary I’ve also opened the batting too many
times now and it is time to shift to No 5 (something Kirsten did at the
tail-end of his career) soon!
“But on a serious note, I’m not setting any long-term goals;
just taking things as they come. As long as I feel as a captain I can add value
to the environment and lead the guys in the best way possible, there’s no
reason to walk away.
“Coming close now to 100 Test captaincies (he has 97 at
present – Sport24) is not the time to look too far ahead. I’m just really
motivated to make every series as important as possible and to play as well as
possible with the guys.”
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