Cape Town – South Africa may have surrendered
their No 1 ranking for the moment, but the best batch of teams in Test cricket
ought to trade in a tight range over the next year or so, giving the Proteas
hope of a return to supremacy.
It is not as though a single, truly exceptional
team exists right now in the manner of the great West Indies outfits of the
late 1970s and 1980s or later Australian combinations of, say, the Mark Taylor
and Steve Waugh captaincy periods.
The now third-ranked South Africa continue
to rebuild after the retirements of various veterans, and a bright immediate
future cannot be regarded as certain in the wake of successive series defeats
at the hands of India and now England.
But they are also tying up a few loose ends
quite nicely, as evidenced in the dead-rubber crushing of the English at
SuperSport Park, which featured promising showings from new-cap opening batsman
Stephen Cook and continued robust development from young prospects like Kagiso
Rabada and Temba Bavuma.
The nucleus of a competitive new unit seems
in place, even if there are still some open-ended issues like the fitness of
ageing strike bowler Dale Steyn, willingness or otherwise of AB de Villiers to
stay involved for some time, and the ongoing problem of getting the team’s
balance right for each specific occasion in the absence of a Kallis-type
England certainly appear on the up again, and
will rightly be delighted with their 2-1 triumph here, although captain
Alastair Cook has admitted they still have instability in their top-order
Although recent results also include
winning the last Ashes series (3-2 at home in 2015), England have been patchy
in series terms – it was also in 2015 that they could only draw 1-1 in the West
Indies, and earn a similar outcome at home to New Zealand.
Before coming to South Africa, they were
also comprehensively beaten 2-0 by Pakistan in their adopted United Arab
As for Australia, the Ashes showed up their
batting frailty in seaming English conditions, even if they will always be a
force to be reckoned with on their own true, firmer tracks.
They are assembling a healthy stock of
Test-calibre fast bowlers, and are better at rotating them for the sake of
freshness than most other nations even if that policy can also hold certain
perils as continuity is affected.
India beat the Proteas on some
controversially dusty, minefield home surfaces not too long ago: tracks which
will do very little, it must be said, to make them more competitive in the
southern hemisphere where their record remains poor.
In their favour, as the current No 1 outfit
by a tight margin from both the Aussies and Proteas, is a roster over the next
year that won’t scare them too much – visits to Zimbabwe and West Indies won’t
daunt them too severely, and they also entertain all of New Zealand, England
and Australia in a row.
So I fancy India may be the ones to rule
the roost over the course of the next 12 months, primarily on the basis of that
If South Africa are to force themselves
back to the front of the pack, it may be necessary for them to win a keynote
series Down Under in October and November, when they will probably play four
Tests; the itinerary has not yet been confirmed by Cricket Australia.
But it is not as though that would be
virgin territory for the Proteas: they have won both of their last two Test
series in Oz – 2008/09 and 2012/13.
are the Test challenges facing South Africa and their traditional three major
rivals up until the end of the 2016/17 season, according to the ICC Future
Africa (ranked 3rd)
August: NZ (H, 2 Tests); October: Aus (A, 4
Tests); December: Sri Lanka (H, 3 Tests); February: NZ (A, 3 Tests).
May: Sri Lanka (H, 3 Tests); July: Pakistan
(H, 4 Tests); October: Bangladesh (A, 2 Tests); November: India (A, 5 Tests).
June: Zimbabwe (A, 1 Test); July: West
Indies (A, 4 Tests); August: Bangladesh (H, 1 Test); October: NZ (H, 3 Tests);
November: Eng (H, 5 Tests); February: Aus (H, 4 Tests).
July: Sri Lanka (A, 3 Tests); October: SA
(H, 4 Tests); December: Pakistan (H, 3 Tests); February: India (A, 4 Tests).
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing