This article focuses on the year South Africa has had, and what we can expect of them in this much anticipated 2009 season. I answer a few questions that are on everybody’s mind as we wait for the much anticipated return series at the end of February.
Is South Africa the new no.1 team in waiting?
A big question to answer. As patriotic is I am, I still don't think that South Africa is ready to take over the reigns of no. 1 team in the world, especially after the complete domination Australia has had over the last decade. I finally think that South Africa have the potential and the players to eventually take over the no.1 spot; now is just not the time.
If they can beat Australia in South Africa, then the Proteas would have proven they are the number one team in the world. South Africa won this past series convincingly, but that is just one series.
What kind of pressure is on the team, and injured captain Graeme Smith, to continue the momentum into 2009?
I find it almost a blessing in disguise that Australia won the final test, because lets be honest, for Australia to travel to South Africa in two months time, as the second or even third best team in the world (after India), I would find it to pressurising for the South Africans to handle on their home turf. I even think that the South African players would agree with me in saying that Australia are still the best in the world, and that the Aussies themselves are not ready to step down a spot or two.
With the loss of such players as Warne, McGrath, Langer, and Gilchrist, the newbies in the team have still got a lot to prove, something Australia hasn't had to do since the late '80s. The immense talent in the batting lineup that's emerging in the like of Shaun Marsh, and this new kid Warner, and the destroying effect Mitchell Johnson has had with the ball in his short career, Australia won't take long to get back into gear, after their neutral shift in the last five months.
Graeme Smith commented that he could be out for up to eight weeks, just enough time before the beginning of the first test at The Wanderers on the 26th of February. I believe that this injury won't set him back, apart from a few net sessions. All I can hope is that he can keep his mind on track, and that will be able to continue his form in this much antcipated 2009 series.
The turning point in the series
There is one department of the game I have always said that needs to be perfected if you want to beat Australia in Australia, and that is CATCHING. South Africa’s catching I would say was the deciding factor in this test series. As minor as it seems, catches win matches, and that’s what it certainly did. Along with Smith’s strategic, and successful field placings, South Africa’s catching was impeccable in the slips, the short cover and short midwicket region, and on the boundary.
It’s fantastic to see that Mickey Arthur worked on this department, and showed to be the difference. This can be seen when South Africa lost the third test, as too many deciding catches were dropped—especially that of Clarke three times on his way to a magnificent hundred. Hopefully SA can carry this performance in the field back home.
What players need to come through for South Africa to overtake Australia, and hold off India, in the world rankings?
South Africa is definitely looking promising for the No. 1 position, with a test squad of almost 13 players, who have really looked pure class in the last year. Finally South Africa have an opening pair since the loss of form of Herschelle Gibbs, who can get South Africapast the first session without the loss of a wicket.
McKenzie had a shakey series, but his innings in the second innings of the second test just proved that he wants to play for South Africa more than any other player. Smith has really shown his true colours and character in the last year, and with finishing as the top run scorer in 2008, and second most runs in a calender year in test history Everyone is hoping that his recovery from injury is a speedy one.
South Africa's middle order now resembles that of the Australians during the early 2000's. Solid. Cricket analysts are claiming that Amla is the No. 3 not only South Africa, but every international team, has been searching for. Kallis has had a bit of a rocky 2008, but has shown in this past series that he can carry his own weight in a performing team. Kallis is class, and will be through to the end of his career.
And even though his batting hasn’t been as spectacular as it was in 2006 and 2007, his bowling has shown to be a thorn in the side for many of the middle batsman he has come up against. AB de Villiers has shown maturity in this test series, and has proven that he can play long innings when needed, and convert those 50’s into match winning 100’s. AB has had a fantastic 2008, and I think he’s only going to get better.
The big player on every one’s mind at the moment is that of JP Duminy. Duminy has made a magic start to his test career, and has shown the temperament and technique to deal with the best bowlers in the world. It is really early, but some commentators were heard to have compared JP Duminy to the likes of Brian Lara.
Well, if we looking at a batsman who could take apart an attack, especially an Australian one, then yes we can say that Duminy is very much like the batting legend, but only time will tell. From what we’ve seen in the last two 20-20 matches over the past few days, it seems that the runs in the test matches could be repeated, even in the shortest form of the game!
It has been a long time since a player for South Africahas been groomed for the international stage. Duminy has put in his hours, and has done the hard work. He has proved his worth on the domestic scene with the Cape Cobras, and has done a few tours as 12th man with the South African team.
This tactic has proven well for the Australians through the last couple of years, and finally South Africahas a player who can come off the bench and perform. I had never thought much of Duminy before this series, but his guts and determination that he showed is something that can be saluted. 2009 is going to be a big year for this exquisite left-hander.
Prince will be biting at the heels of all the South African batsmen, and be edging to get back into the side. He had a fantastic 2008, and is a brilliant middle order batsman who will play a big role when Australia tour at the end of February. Will he make the staring lineup? I’m not sure. But what a player to have in your battery if someone does get injured!
Boucher is solid as a rock, and his flawless keeping is a department the SA selectors should have no stress over. He is by record, the best wicket-keeper who has ever lived, and let’s hope that South Africa can get a few more years out of him.
Dale Steyn–Wisden Test Bowler of the Year. Enough said. He has devastated India in India. He has torn apart the Australians in Australia. He has proven himself to be a top-class bowler. If fitness is a friend to him, he is going to keep making the record books, and ripping apart more batting lineups. I just think that his depth bowling, along with Morkel and Ntini’s really need a lot of work. Too many runs have been accumulated by the tail, and this is one department the Protea bowlers need to improve on.
Morne Morkel is getting better and better, and has really used his height and bounce to his advantage over the last year. His bowling to Ponting in this series was outstanding, and hopefully he can carry that through to the flat bouncy tracks in South Africa. Makhaya Ntini has shown that he wants to play for his country no matter what, be it with the ball or the bat! After being dropped, he has shown that the international scene is where he belongs, and he proved that in his first delivery to Ponting in the WACA test.
Paul Harris, you have proved me wrong. Harris really stepped it up a gear in this series, and has shown that he can take important wickets when needed, especially those of Hussey and Clarke. He has done well, but I still think he has a lot to prove. 2009 will be a testing year for him, and I’m hoping that his run of form continues throughout 2009.
What are the big questions facing the team in 2009?
The Proteas big question in 2009 is how they are going to perform against the Aussies at home. Seeing this is there only test series scheduled for the first half of 2009, fans will have high expectations for the South Africans to repeat their emphatic series win on home soil. I’ve been to many a cricket game in South Africa, and when it comes to test cricket, us South Africans will be there in full force. The Proteas will have the backing of their supporters going into all three test matches.
This editorial has mainly focused on South Africawith regards to test matches. As much as the focus of today has turned towards the shorter form of the game, I am a traditionalist at heart, and find that there are no better battles than those contested over five days. Also, South Africa have shown that this format of the game has now become their new forte, after their more than lack-luster performance in the ODI this past year.
The Proteas will show their worth in 2009, and will want to prove that they can repeat a series victory over Australia on home-soil. South Africa as a unit has looked solid, strong, and unified. With a solid middle order, a destructive bowling attack, and an inspiring world class leader, they go into the test series on the 26th February with a lot to prove.
I feel if they go in to 2009 with the same attitude they had in this past series, they could really be a world class team. Their humble approach, and “we’re here to play cricket” aura, will be tested in 2009, to show if they deserve to be the number one team in the world.
Well done on this past series South Africa, and the 26th of February could not come any quicker.