An Era of African Safari?




Ever since the Australian side san its legends such as Warne, Mcgrath, Hayden, Langer and co lost its hold on the Test Mace in latter half of 2009, the hot spot has been a musical chair between few contenders. India aided by its improved bowling attack to go with a murderous batting line up and array of home tests managed to get there in November 2009 and managed to stay afloat for 18 months. Given their fragile bowling it was an achievement by itself.

The English Summer of 2011 thoroughly exposed India and following their whitewash at the hands of the hosts, Team England got to the top seat. In comparison to Indian side, they had quite a better squad. Mainly their focus remained Test matches while India paid the price for its rendezvous with IPL. England side had a different set of professionals for the three formats and test squad was a blend of experience and youth. However the series against world class spin from Pakistan led to their downfall and the final nail was laid by the African side which took over the mace.

Exactly a year after its ascent, England side lost the Top spot to South African side which has been atop since then. However unlike the Indian and England teams, this South African side looks likely for a longer ride at the top. And this article portrays the reasons for such an assertive belief.

History has always shown the South African team to be a “Bride’s maid” always. Despite having a team capable of gunning down any opposition, they always faltered at the last step and earned the tag of “Chokers”. The trend is continuing still in the Limited overs tournaments conducted by ICC. The test side however looks a different story.

cricket-south-africa_top_test_team

The blue print of their success was the inception of newer coaching set up. Gary Kirsten came with a CV of having taken India to helm in both tests as well as World Cup crown. His home team waited for him to return back and he was snapped as the head coach immediately. What became India’s loss was South Africa’s gain. And Gary immediately set up a panel to assist him including his former team mates Donald and others. With the firm establishment on the back, the next step was to take the last step.

Their batting in the last few years had a settled look even though one or two spots are still experimented. Smith was solid with flair at the top. Alviro was persisted with despite not so great returns and it is providing fruits now. Their middle order of Amla, Kallis and De Villers could challenge any all time best middle orders and that added to their strength.

The major advantage for the current South African side is the strength of the lower middle order. Faf de Plessis made a dream start to his career and has been a handy allrounder. Elgar is another promise and has been making right steps. In Peterson they have a spinner who is much better than their previous recruit – Harris. He is able to provide some kind of support to the pace battery rather than being just a fill in bowler when their pacers need rest. And with the bat he is as good as any bowling allrounder. And then Philander is a decent lower order bat too.

The biggest difference between the current side and previous ones were the role of the spinners. It is well known fact that pace will be their lethal weapon. Spinners have traditionally been the options to fill the gap when their pacers needed rest or the skipper wanted to get through his overs quickly. But the current side has some depth in spin talent. Peterson may not take the world by fire but surely is an effective weapon that can compliment and operate with the pacers in tandem. Faf himself is a useful spinner and could get a breakthrough or two.

And finally the pace attack. Rather than calling it an attack, one could call their pace battery as a blitzkrieg. For the past 3 series at home, the first innings had seen the opponents being bowled out for 45 – 50 runs. The opposition had been annealed before they could breathe. Steyn is indeed the best pace bowler in the circuit currently and could swing the ball at a menacing pace of 150 kmph.

If Steyn could break your legs with maddening pace, his partner Philander is an artist with gentle pace proving nagging lines and probing lengths. He is much gentle in comparison with Steyn but has been unplayable for most times. His accuracy has been next to cent percent. The third seamer is the big man Morne. Morne’s bounce in a quick pace could unsettle any of the best batsmen in the circuit and he wonderfully contemplates the wicket takers in Steyn and Philander. Kallis is the allrounder and a legend. He may not be used much these days but still can offer a lot in terms of bowling too.

Any side will face problems when their regular player is injured. The replacements usually are not as good as the regular ones. But it is here that the current South Africa side looks ominous. Dumminy on his return to fitness will find it difficult to break into the batting line up. And the pace battery has too many options. Tsotsobe is not being used in Tests but is a street smart cricketer who would love the white cherry. Merchant De Lange had a dream debut and is currently recuperating. Kleinveldt is a like a like replacement for Morne Morkel. Last match saw the new comer Abott destroying Pakistan with a 7 wicket haul.

Last but not the least; one must not forget their new confidence. Unlike their predecessors, the current set up has belief and ability to stay long afloat. It is here that the coach Gary with his army of staff has been instrumental in making them believe in themselves. Given his stint with India, no wonder he is able to instill an air of confidence and security among the talented South Africans and the results are there to see.

The depth of the side, wealth of the backup players and a top class setup has all made this side look invincible. If they continue in the same vein, there can be could end up alongside the West Indies of 1970-80 or Australia of early 2000s. For the well being of the Test game, let us hope such a dominance of the Proteas occurs.

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Author:

Dr.Arvind Subramanian is a Dental Surgeon from Chennai, India. A native of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu he, like most other youngsters of India, he is a fanatic fan of Tendulkar and a hardcore Cricket buff. He has a great interest for Writing and writes on various subjects from Medicine to Arts and Culture to Cricket. He is also a good classical dancer and performs on various Sabhas and Art Centres often and is also an orator He is about to pursue his higher studies in his field. You can find him in Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1409700718

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