When South Africa visited Australia for a Test tour in 2005, they were beaten 0-2. When Australia visited the Proteas in the return tour next year, the score line was even worse at 0-3. The same year saw SA lose 0-2 with Sri Lankan.
From those depths, they sure have turned it around!
It is interesting to know that since that loss, South Africa has played 24 series and lost just one, that too a narrow affair with Australia 1-2. They have won 16 of these series, drawing the rest. The last time England or India beat South Africa in a Test series is way back in 2004.
South Africa have been unbeaten in Tests for 4 years now and probably lay claim to the third great Test team after the West Indies of the past and Australia till recently.
When the Pakistan team beat them comfortably by 7 wickets at Abu Dhabi recently, they must have sniffed a very rare series upset. But captain Graeme Smith blasted a majestic 234 after their opponents were blown away for an abysmal 99.
In the process they won by an innings and 92 runs to level the series and keep their record intact. It’s not Australia, England or India, but South Africa that is the team to beat in Tests today.
Smith himself is one of the most under-rated Test captains and is going from strength to strength. He has captained most Tests (104) and won most at the helm too (51): Now that’s some sterling century and half-century.
Smith has been South Africa’s most reliable batsman for his team and now has 9000 Test career runs at an average close to 50. He has 27 centuries with an interesting statistic: His team has never ever lost a match in which he has crossed three figures!
Whenever Graeme Smith scores a Test century, South Africa cannot lose the match!
Currently in the ICC Test rankings, SA is the clear leader with 131 points. After that both England and India are way behind with 116 points apiece.
The Test player rankings also tell a similar story.
For batsman, AB de Villiers is at No. 1 and Hashim Amla at No. 2. De Villiers is quietly closing in on the 7000 run mark and Amla became the first Test triple centurion from South Africa. Captain Smith is also in the Top 10 for Test batting.
For bowlers, Dale Steyn is at No. 1 and Vernon Philander at No. 2! Steyn has picked up 340 Test wickets and Philander is closing in on 100. Interestingly Philander is also in the Top 5 ICC Rankings for Test All-rounders!
Of course, they also have Jacques Kallis who is arguably the greatest Test all-rounder ever. With 13,000 odd runs and 44 Test centuries at an average of 55, he’s the closest to the run machine Sachin Tendulkar.
Add his 288 Test wickets and close to 200 catches, then you have a candidate for the greatest Test player of all time.
That’s complete Test domination by the Proteas.
The ICC World Test Championship is scheduled to be played in 2017. Had it been played in 2013, then we know who the clear favourites would have been!
When India tours South Africa at the end of the year, then MS Dhoni and his team will sure have their work cut out.
In a way, India has been the toughest team for South Africa in the last decade and not Australia or England. In 2004, India won its home series and in 2006 South Africa won its home series. However, since then, the succeeding three series have all had an identical score line: 1-1, 1-1 and 1-1.
So will our opponents go in for a kill or will our young guns do the unthinkable and get us our first series victory on South African soil?
Our youngsters have got us our first 4-0 Test whitewash and also recently won the ICC Champions Trophy, so they cannot be totally ruled out!
Dhoni may have lost seven overseas Tests consecutively in England and Australia, but he will be itching to record straight and he is also one captain that you can never count him down.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/