South Africa were this week confirmed as the number one ODI side in the world. This came during the same week in which they beat India away by an innings and ninety runs, in the process losing only seven wickets themselves. Whilst Australia and India have been drawing the media’s gaze over the past year or so, Graeme Smith’s side has been going quietly about winning series after series in all formats of the game.
Since 2006 they have beaten India (Home (and lead 3 match series 1-0 Away), Pakistan (Home and Away), New Zealand (Home), the West Indies (Home) and Bangladesh (Away) in Test Match series. Meanwhile they have triumphed over India (Home), Pakistan (Home and Away), New Zealand (Home), West Indies (Home), Bangladesh (Away), Zimbabwe (Home and Away) and Ireland (Away) in ODI series.
South African Results: 2006-2008
2006 Zimbabwe (Home) ODI: 3-0.
2006/2007 India (Home) Test: 2-1; ODI: 4-0; Twenty20: 0-1.
2007 Pakistan (Home) Test: 2-1; ODI 3-1; Twenty20 1-0.
2007 Ireland (Away) ODI: 1-0.
2007 Zimbabwe (Away) ODI: 3-0.
2007 Pakistan (Away) Test: 1-0; ODI: 3-2.
2007 New Zealand (Home) Test: 2-0; ODI 2-1; Twenty20: 1-0.
2007/2008 West Indies (Home) Test: 2-1; ODI: 5-0; Twenty20: 1-1.
2008 Bangladesh (Away) Test: 2-0; ODI: 3-0.
2008 India (Away) Test: Lead 3 match series 1-0.
The cumulative records are as follows:
Test Matches: 12-3.
That is a fairly convincing record, even when the lesser opposition is removed. The victories on the subcontinent, in both India and Pakistan, are particularly impressive and indicative of a side very much on the up. Indeed, being able to win in both India and Pakistan is one of the toughest tasks in international cricket and a necessary precursor to world dominance.
The South African batting line-up finally seems to be coming together as a strong unit. Graeme Smith and the recently recalled Neil McKenzie form an excellent opening partnership, whilst the solidity provided by Hashim Amla and Jaques Kallis provides a fantastic balance to the side. Amla has really developed over the last year, translating his awesome domestic form into the international arena. Ashwell Prince (41.00) faces increasing pressure from the impressive Jean-Paul Duminy for his place in the side and Duminy could well prove to be the final piece of the jigsaw in the batting line-up, with AB de Villiers and Mark Boucher secure in their respective positions. Both are of course fantastic wicket keepers, so South Africa are well covered in that department, with Boucher holding the world record for most dismissals.
The bowling line-up has experienced much change over the last year, with Shaun Pollock’s recent retirement and the emergence of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel as top quality bowlers. Both bowl at in excess of 90 m.p.h. and Steyn is currently the joint top Test Match bowler in the ICC rankings, along with Muttiah Muralitheran. Makaya Ntini has long been recognised as a leading bowler in world cricket and he also bowls upwards of 90 m.p.h. Backed up by Jaques Kallis and looked on at by Andre Nel, the pace bowling department is top notch and possibly the best world cricket has to offer. The enduring weakness of South African cricket over the past decade has though been the absence of a spinner of real quality. Claude Henderson has possibly been the most talented South African spinner of recent times, but he of course plays as a kolpak for Leicestershire. Paul Harris and Johan Botha seem to be the two spinners of choice at the moment in Test Match cricket and ODI’s respectively. They are hardly world class performers, but Harris especially has shown an ability to take top opposition wickets at a low cost and economy. Harris is an exception to the South African rule of playing a spinner who can bat and appears to be growing into his role within the Test side. His inclusion is a signal of aggressive intent from the South Africans and if fortune favours the bold, he may prove to be the missing link whom the Springboks have long been searching for. Botha is more in the Nicky Boje vein of being able to bat, bowl and field well, hence him being preferred for limited overs matches.
A Test Match side of;
Smith (c) (48.51 / HS 277)
McKenzie (Since Jan 2008: 95.17 / HS 226)
Amla (Since April 2006: 42.37 / HS 176*)
Kallis (57.73 / HS 189* - 31.20 / 66.70)
Duminy (First Class: 52.25 / HS 169)
De Villiers (40.30 / HS 217*)
Boucher (wk) (30.21 / HS 125 - 411 ct / 19 st)
M. Morkel (23.75 - 36.84 / 56.60)
Harris (30.35 / 71.40)
Steyn (21.41 / 35.60)
Ntini (27.78 / 51.60);
will worry the fiercest of opposition and could yet challenge the possibly weakening Australian stranglehold over Test Match cricket.
Meanwhile, an ODI line-up of;
Smith (c) (41.11)
Kallis (45.21 - 31.53 / 39.20)
De Villiers (37.66)
Boucher (wk) (28.98 - 368 ct / 18 st)
A. Morkel (18.15 - 29.03 / 33.90)
Botha (18.00 - 52.84 / 67.20)
M. Morkel (26.00 - 22.95 / 28.60)
Steyn (35.33 / 38.40)
Ntini (24.12 / 32.30);
is already officially the best on offer.
Coach Mickey Arthur has recovered from a tough start (three series defeats out of four to Australia) to transform South Africa into a side which is once again feared, not just at home, but also away. There have been blips along the way (most notably away to Sri Lanka), but there can be no denying that Arthur has impressed with his recent record, especially on the subcontinent. Differences with the board over South African selection policy lurk in the background though, but as long as Arthur continues the impressive resurgence of South African fortunes on the international stage, he will hold a certain degree of power in any future disputes. For the good of South African cricket, Arthur needs to be left to run the team in the way which he sees fit, because, although young (39), he has the potential to lift South Africa to a new level and place this South African side atop the world tree.
The Best is Yet to Come?
South Africa have had plenty of false dawns recently and have found it hard to shake the tag of being chokers on the big occasions. The results of both the final match in India and the upcoming tour of England will show just how far they have come in the last two years and more importantly, how much further they can go yet, with a visit to Australia at the year's end. Cricketing neutrals will hope that this enigmatic beast can emerge as a serious threat to Australia in Test matches as well as ODI’s. That task is not an easy one, but for the moment South Africa rightly hold the position of second in the ICC Test Match rankings and number one in the ODI rankings. A fantastic summer lies ahead, but not necessarily for England.