Cricket Xtra: SA's incredibly consistent run deserves more respect

Ajit Vijaykumar 09:57 02/11/2015
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A class apart: South Africa have been one of the most consistent touring teams of the modern era.

Here is a statistic to marvel at. South Africa have not lost an overseas Test series since 2007. They have won 10 and drawn half as many, including series victories against Sri Lanka, Australia, Pakistan and England.

Eight years without defeat away from home in various conditions is a special achievement which deserves greater attention and recognition.

When cricket fans talk about successful Test teams, they reminisce about the rampant West Indian side of the 1970s and 80s or the relentless Australians of the early 2000s.

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As far as the Caribbean side is concerned, they remained unbeaten in  home or away series for an astonishing 15 years. Between 1980 and 1995, the West Indies didn’t taste series reversal on 29 occasions. That is, without doubt, utter domination. 

The mighty Australians had two amazing runs in Tests – 16 consecutive Test match wins on separate occasions (1999-2000 and 2006-07). No one has come even close to achieving that in the history of the game. And it is safe to say that record will stay secure for some time.

It’s incredible that the South Africans are not talked about in the same breath. Ever since their reintroduction in 1992, the Proteas have consistently shown great fight under various captains and across formats.

And that is what the South Africans can be proud of. Even though they don’t have an all-time great side like the Windies of the 1980s or the Aussies of the 2000s, they have never fielded a poor side that has been walloped by the opposition.

The West Indies’ fortunes have nosedived, even losing 2-0 to Bangladesh in 2009. A mixture of lack of disciplined players and mismanagement from the board has led to the current turmoil in Windies cricket and it won’t change for the foreseeable future.

The Australians have also been up and down recently, suffering series whitewashes in India (2010 and 2011) and against Pakistan (2014) in the UAE.

And they have had some serious personnel and captaincy issues of late that have taken the focus away from the actual game. Some of the gains made by the great side of the 2000s seem to have been lost along the way.

But the Proteas continue to march on. They are the most consistent team on the road and have been for some time.

The only instances of the Proteas getting convincingly beaten are their 3-0 setbacks to Australia in 2001 and 2006.

Apart from that, South Africa have generally competed as equals. And the reason for that is a robust domestic system that throws up fast bowlers, all-rounders and world-class batsmen by the dozens.

Be it Hansie Cronje, Shaun Pollock or Graeme Smith, South African captains have always had a technically efficient and supremely fit squad at their disposal. They have almost never made any compromise in selection according to the situation. 

Almost all the teams have had to ‘carry’ certain players in the side due to the lack of viable options or pitch conditions at some point or the other.

Not the South Africans. They have stuck to the age old policy of selecting your best eleven players and backing them to do the job, whatever the opposition.

The reliable batting of Jacques Kallis and Smith, the incisive bowling of Allan Donald and Dale Steyn and their electric fielding over the years has culminated in this superb run of success of the current squad.

And looking at the exciting bunch of youngsters like pacer Kagiso Rabada and wicketkeeper batsman Quinton de Kock lining up to take South Africa cricket forward, it can be said that the Proteas won’t field a poor team that surrenders without a fight.

It has not happened for a considerable period as yet and doesn’t look like happening any time soon. And that is a feat worthy of being celebrated as much as the 16 successive Test wins by Australia or 15 years of West Indian domination.

Time to take off

Leg-spinners mature very late. It is felt that a proper leg-spinner masters his body and dynamics of spin only after getting at least 10 seasons of first-class cricket under his belt. Shane Warne was an exception to that rule but for other mere mortals, leg spin is a waiting game. 

England are learning that now in the most pleasant way with the rise of Adil Rashid. The Yorkshire tweaker made his international  debut in 2009 but had to wait for six years to break into the Test team. And it looks like years of toil have had the desired impact.

While Rashid wasn’t a prodigious turner of the ball in 2009, the 2015 variant can spin the ball from leg to off. Rashid is 27 and at that crucial stage of his career where his graph will either go up or down. 

He has settled into a rhythm that has worked superbly in the Tests against Pakistan. It’s now up to the management to help Rashid realise his full potential by giving him more playing time as Rashid has shown he is worth persisting with.

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