While the world has cast its attention towards England and Australia and, inevitably, India, one country has quietly enjoyed a break (one of those things we thought cricket hadn’t heard of!). South Africa have stayed below the radar and that is not surprising because that is the way they tend to do things. Hashim Amla embodies that. Quietly he scores his runs, quietly he creeps up on records and he does it without a fuss.
South Africa win more matches than most and it is very difficult to go over there and win. But now they must look to a new peak. The next ICC tournament is about ten months away and even though it is only over 2 overs, they must convert what looks like an excellent squad on paper into one that poses with a trophy. And they must ascend to number one in the world in Test cricket. They have the team to do it, certainly as long as Jacques Kallis allows them to play with five bowlers.
The world, or certainly those that like to see South Africa play well, would like to see them go on a ground and express themselves. They tend to play a bit like the Germans did at football, focussing on method, efficiency and solidity. Maybe Gary Kirsten, with his experience of being in a more open, joyous environment, can get them to do what Jurgen Klinsmann did with the Germans - introduce flair and joy into the team.
They are more multi-dimensional than before due to the arrival of spin on their shores. They had lone warriors in the past with Pat Symcox the best of them all. I often joked to my friends in South Africa that the two things they didn’t understand were vegetarianism and spin bowling and now they are stepping up on both fronts! The journeyman Imran Tahir has joined Paul Harris (again largely under-estimated) and in the limited-overs format Robin Peterson and Johan Botha are keeping out Roloef van der Merwe, who is an excellent cricketer.
You tend to assume that Kallis will have a good season; he rarely has any other. And Amla and AB de Villiers are outstanding players of today and tomorrow. Dale Steyn, if free of injury, is a sight to behold but key support players must step up this year. It will be a big year for Graeme Smith who’s just hit a plateau. But the players to watch for South Africa on their upward journey will be JP Duminy and Morne Morkel who have flirted with being players beyond their generation but haven’t yet gone the distance.
We’ve had an incredible first Test so far, and it’s only day 2! The pitch at Newlands has assisted the bowlers, but that doesn’t take anything away from what Vernon Philander has done for the Proteas and Shane Watson for the Aussies; they have both take brilliant 5-wicket hauls. Their Castrol Index ratings are off the charts! It’s been incredible to see more than 20 wickets fall in a single day. That just goes to show that South Africa v Australia is always a good series to watch. With Australia bubbling with new talent, but still vulnerable, it seems an open contest.