South Africa have enjoyed a stellar 12 months in the Test arena and there is every reason to think they can maintain their impressive development.
South Africa’s Test series win in Australia marked the end of an era. But did it also represent the beginning of a new era, one of South African dominance?
The simultaneous improvements made by India suggest not, especially as Australia will surely be a strong force sooner rather than later. The Proteas have a tough task to consistently hang onto their number one ranking, should they indeed take it from the Aussies in the coming months.
The current team is well-equipped to mount a challenge for Test dominance. They have a young but experienced captain who is at the peak of his powers in Graeme Smith, a youthful middle order of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy that is suddenly established as the most promising in the world and a pair of fresh tearaway quick bowlers in the form of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
The retirement of Shaun Pollock and impending departures of Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs and Makhaya Ntini will not be as keenly felt as seemed likely when those pillars of the side were at their best, nor indeed as much as Australia felt the retirements of their own stalwarts of the last decade and a half.
Similarly, the long-term future of South African cricket is looking better than it has for some time. Their development program has been under close scrutiny since their readmission into international cricket and whilst valid concerns exist over the funding and recruiting of talent from black communities, the fact that Ali Bacher feels the racial quota policy has served its purpose is suggestive of adequate progress.
The South African U19 team was runner-up at the last youth World Cup in 2008 (to India; more evidence of who is likely to battle for seniority at full international level?) and is currently asserting their superiority of their English counterparts.
The senior One Day team therefore has some new talent waiting to be introduced as it continues its transition phase ahead of the 2011 World Cup. The Test team is harder to break into, as it should be having won in England for just the third time and more notably Australia for the first time.
The second decade of the 21st century might not see one team dominate as Australia did for the preceding 15 years, but it will see South Africa be consistently near the top of the tree.
Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.