Here’s an interesting statistic in Test cricket: From 2007-12, South Africa have played 20 Test series and lost just one of them. Yes, that’s right, they have by far been the most consistent team in the last five years and yet India held the ICC No. 1 Test ranking for close to two years and England for 1 year.
South Africa were No. 1 for just a few months before India and it remains to be seen how long they can stay at the top this time.
In the above mentioned period, how did the other No. 1s fare? India got thrashed 0-4 first by England and then by Australia. England got thrashed 0-3 by Pakistan and lost 0-2 to South Africa to lose the crown. Even Australia lost 0-2 twice to India and 1-3 to England.
The South Africans are also the masters of overseas. Australia lost on home soil to the mighty West Indians in 1992. After that till 2008, no team managed to beat them at home. This fortress was breached by South Africa.
England have also been tigers on home soil recently. They have won 8 of their last 10 series on home soil. It should come as no surprise that the only two they lost were both to South Africa.
In fact if there was no such thing as the ICC Test ranking, then the title of the unofficial Test champion would probably have passed seamlessly from Australia to South Africa, the way it did from the West Indies to the Aussies.
This becomes all the more stark considering the fact that India have never ever won a Test series on Australian and South African soil while England are a disaster in the entire Indian sub-continent.
True champions can beat anyone on any turf. Only South Africa fits that bill currently.
While the past world champion teams had their share of superstars, the current lot of South Africans are probably the most under-rated.
At Lord’s, not only did the Proteas capture the No.1 ranking, but captain Graeme Smith created another record for leading his team for the most number of matches: 94, going past the legendary Allan Border. While most people would be reaching retirement age after such a feat, Smith is just 31!
He has captained 94 of the 102 Test matches he has played in his life and has never let the pressure affect his batting. He has 25 centuries and has a batting average close to 50. There is a great chance that he could become the first player to record 50 Test wins as captain.
Then there’s Jacques Kallis, who could already be called the greatest Test all-rounder in the history of the game. Garry Sobers had 8032 runs in Test cricket and 235 wickets. Kallis has surpassed both those figures with 12641 runs and 280 wickets. What’s more, he has a phenomenal Test batting average of close to 57. With 43 centuries, only he has a serious chance of catching up with Sachin Tendulkar’s tally.
Then there’s not to forget the great Mark Boucher, who recently retired due to a freak eye injury. He has been an integral part of South Africa’s dominance. 555 dismissals in 147 matches mean that there’s no-one who’s close to him.
There’s also the pace attack. Currently Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel are the most fearsome bowling troika in the world and could rattle any batsmen on any pitch in the world. Steyn is closing in on 300 Test wickets while Philander has a superlative 63 wickets in just 10 Tests.
Finally there’s rising star Hashim Amla, who became the first South African to score a Test triple century in the recently concluded series with England. Amla is closing in on 5000 Test runs and has all the makings of a great Test batsman. Interestingly, he also has an ODI batting average of 56, which is way ahead of his contemporaries.
That’s not to forget the magic of coach Gary Kirsten who has now taken two teams to the top of the Test rankings. India crashed immediately after Kirsten left showing how important he actually was.
One must say that currently South Africa has the best Test future among all teams!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/