Cape Town – The way seems promisingly clear for Graeme
Smith’s increasingly steely South African Test side to nail down their
top-ranked status in the world for an extended period.
Their rating has been healthily boosted by completing a
second successive away series triumph over fierce rivals Australia in Perth on
Monday, a result that comes fairly hot on the heels of the equally commendable
victory in England a few months ago.
The Proteas currently boast a six-point gap over the
second-ranked English, who are in the midst of a four-Test series in India but
will not make significant inroads into the South African supremacy even if they
win the four-Test series currently locked at 1-1.
Scorecard: Australia v South Africa, third Test, Perth
Australia v South Africa: Third Test, day 4, latest highlightsProteas give Ricky Ponting a guard of honour
South Africa, for their part, finally have the satisfaction
of coming home, in more ways than one, given that their next two series are on
our soil, and against teams who have never before prevailed here – New Zealand
The Black Caps will arrive for all forms of combat this
month (though the two-Test series only begins at Newlands on January 2) with
some renewed credibility after a fighting 1-1 outcome in Sri Lanka, but remain
a lowly eighth in the pecking order and will be strongly tipped for defeat,
just as the fickle Pakistanis ought to be beyond that.
Beating Sri Lanka away has not been achieved by the Proteas
since 1993 – there have been three series since with two defeats and a
stalemate – but next year’s scheduled series there has been postponed to 2015
So there is really every opportunity for South Africa, whose
Test form on the road has ironically been more impressive than in their natural
habitat in recent years, to simply cement their status at the top in the short-
While the 1-0 series win Down Under is clearly what counts
the most, Smith’s team achieved something at the WACA that no post-isolation
South African side had previously managed: win a Test in Australia with a truly
dominating performance. You cannot argue with a victory margin of 309 runs.
Earlier efforts have primarily been come-from-behind ones,
sometimes against massive odds, but here even losing captain Michael Clarke
conceded that “South Africa outplayed us for the last four days”.
The Proteas will probably be the first to admit, even in the
glow of glory, that the compelling action over the course of the three contests
was often of a schizophrenic nature, with some pronounced swings in fortune and
a really concerted rearguard effort required in Adelaide to save the Test
But as Aussie commentator and wicketkeeping legend Ian Healy
said after the decisive WACA win by the Proteas: “Full of courage, full of
fight ... they brought their A-game to Perth.”
That fact alone goes a long way to excusing some of the more
fitful tendencies from the South Africans earlier in the series, because the
mark of a quality unit is its ability to dominate when it genuinely matters.
renowned “disciplines” were just so much more evident in the final Test than
they had been in Brisbane or Adelaide, particularly on the bowling front where
the front-line pace trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander
roared back as a collective entity after being separated anyway by Philander’s
injury-enforced absence from the middle Test.
It is worth reflecting, as further indication of a broad
sharpening of the act with the ball, that after conceding 23 no-balls in
Brisbane and 20 in Adelaide, there was not one further Proteas violation of the
“chalk” in the last encounter.
A welcome bonus, too, was the performance of left-arm spinner
Robin Peterson, reintroduced to Test cricket after a gap of almost five years
following the nightmare suffered by leggie Imran Tahir at Adelaide Oval.
Peterson bowled with guile and a welcome sense of daring
throughout the game, fully deserving his successive three-wicket hauls.
His second-innings showing went a long way to knocking the
mental stuffing out of the Aussies, considering that he spoiled the Ricky
Ponting farewell party and also delightfully coaxed Clarke out his crease for
an excellent stumping by AB de Villiers.
Peterson took a bit of “tap” as well, but you are always
going to expect that when your team has so many runs to play with and the
captain has the luxury of keeping his fielders up near the bat for much of the
He will now be serious favourite, you would think, for the
first-choice spinning role against New Zealand over New Year: if you throw in
the distant last appearance against Bangladesh at Chittagong in February 2008,
Peterson has earned 12 wickets from successive appearances for the Proteas!
Of course the rehabilitating JP Duminy will remain sidelined
for the rest of the summer, but the splendid arrival of Faf du Plessis as a
classy middle-order batting factor means they will manage more than comfortably
in his absence, especially with several of the established South African
juggernauts still so productive.
Meanwhile the “Gary Kirsten effect” as the Proteas’ calm,
unflappable coach only gathers impetus.
Psst, who is complaining now about that little holiday he
allowed his troops after the first Test?
*Sport 24’s Rob
Houwing will comprehensively review the Test series triumph in Australia on www.bakgatradio.co.za with sports anchor Dave Papenfus from
18:00 on Monday. Also follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing