Sport


South Africa top of test cricket world

21 August 2012

South Africa celebrated Graeme Smith's world record-equalling 93rd test as captain with a 51-run victory over England at Lords on Monday, which secured the number one ranking in test cricket for the Proteas.

"South Africa were the better side, not just in this test match, but over the course of the series and they thoroughly deserve their victory," England captain Andrew Strauss said in a post-match interview.

Former England captain Michael Atherton, at the post-match presentations, asked Smith about where he thought the difference was between the teams.

"I think we were able to post totals in this series," Smith said. "We were able to build partnerships and get scores on the board that were substantial and allowed our bowlers to bowl with maybe a bit more freedom, and allowed them to attack and get the rewards."

'A great feeling'

Looking back on the tour of England, he added: "It's a long two months here for this test series three test matches it's a long time to stay mentally focused and to deal with the pressure of playing England in England, and to have won the series 2-0 is a great feeling."

Just before the post-match presentations, Smith had written a message on his shirt for Mark Boucher, who had been forced out of the series by a career-ending eye injury. He explained it to Atherton. "I know that he is watching," he said to cheers from the crowd.

"It's a message from all of us. He's been an integral part of the Proteas for 147 games. This was meant to be his 150th test match, so we really wanted to let him know that he's here with us today and this series victory was for him and everything he's done for the Proteas."

Man of the series

Hashim Amla was named man of the series. Not only was his total of 482 runs over 200 runs more than any other batsman on either side managed in the series, his 311 in the first test was better than any other batsman managed in the entire series.

His 121 in the second innings at Lords, the highest score in the match, was crucial to South Africa's 51-run victory.

"Moments like this make cricket what it is. It's a great advert for test cricket, the way the game unfolded. It's just a fantastic day for us," Amla said in his post-match interview.

Atherton pointed out that Amla is now number two in the test batting rankings and number one in the one-day international rankings. "You've come a long way," he suggested.

"Yeah, I'm not even the second best batsman in my team, so I don't think the rankings really matter too much, but I'm just glad to be doing well for the team," the ever-modest Amla replied.

Man of the match

The man of the match at Lords, though, was Vernon Philander, who showed his all-round ability at test level for the first time. In South Africa's first innings of 309 all out, he and JP Duminy shared the top score of 61, and he followed that up with 35, which was the third-highest score in the Proteas' second knock.

On top of that, he was the toughest bowler to get away throughout the match, and the game's most successful bowler, claiming 2 for 48 in 24 overs in the first innings and 5 for 30 in the second off 14.5 overs.

England, who led by six runs on the first innings, had been set a challenging 346 for victory after South Africa posted 351 in their second innings.

After Philander had reduced them to 16 for 2 on Sunday, that task looked as if it would be beyond them. When he added the wicket of Ian Bell for four, with the total on 34 on Monday, it appeared the game wouldn't become much of a contest.

Terrific fightback

England, though, fought back terrifically, with Jonny Bairstow, called up in place of the controversial Kevin Pietersen, following up his first innings' top score of 95 with a sparkling 54 off only 47 balls. Jonathan Trott also showed attacking intent, making 63, before Dale Steyn removed him.

Then Matt Prior and Stuart Broad took the game to the Proteas. Broad, playing with gay abandon, was always likely to offer an opportunity or two and he was eventually dismissed for 37, caught by Amla off the bowling of Kallis. Unfortunately for South Africa the onslaught did not slow, it grew as Graeme Swann joined Prior out in the middle.

Facing an old ball, but with the threat of a new one on the way, the pair played their shots, including some superb reverse sweeps by Prior off of the leg-spinner Imran Tahir. As they bravely challenged the Proteas' bowlers, so the vocal support of the crowd picked up.

Partnership broken

After the pair had added 74 runs, the partnership was finally broken. A moment's hesitation by Swann on a quick run did him in as Jacques Rudolph fired the ball in to Tahir, who threw down the stumps from a metre away to just beat Swann's attempt to make it into the crease.

With the score on 282, James Anderson joined Prior in the middle. The wicketkeeper, the established man at the crease, had to continue playing his shots and that led to him finding a thick outside edge as he attempted to drive. Sprinting in from deep, Duminy took the catch and it seemed the match was in the bag for South Africa at last.

More drama followed, however, as umpire Simon Taufel asked for a review of Morne Morkel's delivery and the slo-mo revealed the big fast bowler had overstepped and sent down a no ball. Prior, who had almost reached the boundary, was called back and returned to the crease to rowdy cheers from the crowd.

Turned to Philander

Finally, the new ball arrived, but Prior, looking solid, managed a ferocious four off Steyn's first over. Proteas' skipper Smith turned to Philander to make a breakthrough.

With his fourth ball, he nipped one away and found the edge of Prior's bat to all but wrap up the series as the wicketkeeper departed for a very well played 73.

The very next delivery, to last man in Steven Finn, went to second slip where Jacques Kallis bagged the catch to end the contest and the series.

Philander had done the trick. South Africa had won the match, the series, and ascended to number one in the world rankings.

'They deserve every accolade'

"The entire squad, including all the players and team management, deserve every accolade they will undoubtedly receive, Cricket South Africa Acting CEO Jacques Faul said in a statement.

"They have made the entire country extremely proud and it has been a wonderful period for South African sport coming after the impressive performance of Team SA at the Olympic Games and Ernie Els's victory at the British Open Golf Championship."

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Proteas ready to face Pakistan: Smith

The Proteas celebrate their 2-0 series win over England in September 2012 with the ICC Mace, which is given to the number one ranked test cricket team in the world (Photo: Cricket South Africa)

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