Count South Africa out at your own risk. As Graeme Smith demonstrated, South Africans do not shy away from a challenge or take the easy way out of a tough situation. Will this never-say-die attitude be enough to take the Proteas to the top of the ICC Test rankings?
That is a tough question. In the past the national cricket team of South Africa have earned themselves a reputation as the chokers of world cricket. It is a reputation well deserved if you look at the team's performances in Cricket World Cups.
Although South Africa's cricket heroes have seldom made their mark on this tournament, they have punctuated the past 17 years with exceptional individual and team performances. Who can forget the 438 runs they scored against Australia in Johannesburg a few years ago to send the men from down under back home with an ODI series defeat?
Many people will be talking about the "Losing Captain who won" for years to come. The next chance "Biff" and his team will have to claim the top Test Cricket ranking will come when Australia tour South Africa later this summer. Ricky Ponting's team are clearly in a rebuilding phase after the retirement of legends Adam Gilchrist, Glen McGrath,and Shane Warne.
The men under those baggy caps are also under immense pressure to perform weighed upon them by a power-hungry Australian fan base and a media fraternity second only, in all probability, to the sharp pens of the English newspapers. Mathew Hayden is in the midst of a slump which sees the Ausies in a desperate search for stability at the top of their batting order.
After their performance in Australia the only question in my mind will be: "Can South Africa ignore the euphoria they must be feeling and knuckle down to defend their honour back home?" The Australians have never really struggled on tour to South Africa, but the Proteas have been formidable at home in recent years. One thing is certain: It will be worth the wait and worth watching when these two teams do lock horns again in white.
If the Australian top order can find form facing the red ball, South Africa will be in trouble. Australia will probably not be bothered with defending their top spot, but they will be thrilled if they can return the favour by handing South Africa a test series defeat at home.
If South Africa can continue the good work they did down under Australia will have a long tour to get through. Most cricket professionals maintain that the statistics do not really matter to them while they play. Certainly the captain, the selectors and the coaching staff will be gunning for it. No doubt that if they do ascend to number one it will be mentioned in the post-match interviews. The players will hold it in the back of their minds and will certainly savour the moment if and when it comes.
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