After defeating a very good England team, probably one of the best from the Island ever, South Africa gained the rights to be the number one test playing nation in the world.
Being number one, at last is an exceptionally satisfying reality. The opportunity to watch some of the play of the last two months on the tele was an honour and a richly rewarding experience; which, mind you, left most cricket followers in this country with no fingernails to brag with.
The test at the Kia Oval had its drama but eventually it resulted in a fairly easy and convincing victory for the Proteas. From then on the English had to play catch-up cricket; which was never going to be an easy task against one of the finest teams ever to play the great game.
Headingley was equally gripping; but as it resulted in a draw.
After that everyone knew that despite the absence of Kevin Pietersen, England would throw everything into the last test in an attempt to share the series and to cling onto the number one spot.
And so it was: after five breathtaking days, with some of the best cricket ever played, England succumbed, but only after they came perilously close to deny South Africa the joy of being the best.
Statistics and scientific evaluations of players’ abilities will show that England has lesser potential and talent than the Proteas in all departments, except maybe in spin-bowling, and that the victorious team is indeed the better of the two.
However, and this should not be denied or downplayed, Andrew Strauss’ men constitutes an amazingly gutsy and talented team.
Watching the South Africans celebrate after the series win made me think that the old cliché was probably true: the Proteas was “hungrier” than England and they wanted a series-win more than their opponents.
That would explain why the Proteas, every time when the opponents threatened to take control, reeled the English in.
It would explain why the Proteas, whenever the likes of Jonny Bairstow, KP Pietersen and Steven Finn did the miraculous came back to top their performances.
On day four of the Lords-test Finn bowled the most brilliant spell in the series; putting the Proteas on the back foot and opening opportunities for England to win the test and to share the series.
Later that night; and again when the new ball finally arrived yesterday, Vernon Philander topped that performance.
Whatever the English did the Proteas did better and that is why they are now the number one test team on the globe.
If the outcome of the Basil D’Oliveira-trophy test series 2012, between England and the Proteas, left you speechless; well overwhelmed with a tear or a few, you will not be blamed. The Proteas fought hard for this achievement; harder than anyone of us will ever understand.
During the third test the English media used the “choke”- word. Mean, but not without merit: in the past the Proteas would have succumbed to pressure and expectations. But not this time; my educated guess is that the Proteas dealt with the “choke” and that they got rid of it. Doing that on foreign soil and without Mark Boucher makes it even more remarkable.
As for the wellbeing of cricket and especially the long version; this series did wonders for test cricket. It proved that test cricket remains the ultimate cricketing experience. This is the type of series that makes young players dream to play tests for their country before they take the field for One Day Internationals and T-20 games.
I believe England made a massive mistake when they sidelined Steven Finn for the first test. He is clearly the best of the England quick’s. Graeme Swann had little influence on the series and the Proteas again proved their dominance over spin.
Leaving out Jonny Bristow for James Taylor was a mistake.
Eventually the Kevin Pietersen-saga was a tough nut to crack for Andrew Strauss. His captaincy was nothing other than superb, but he failed with the bat.
Matt Prior again showed his value as a wicket keeper and batter and with Boucher no longer around, the England keeper is ahead of any other by a country mile.
In the South African setup, all the batters scored vital runs at crucial times. The experiment with a recognized batter at 7 became a trump card.
Although AB might feel that his batting was down on par, his keeping was very good.
Jacques Kallis proved, again that he is the best batter and cricketer of all times.
Graeme Smith is a wonderful captain, and his mental strength carried the Proteas through every little crisis.
The debate about the best bowling attack in the world is something of the past: there is no better than Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis. Even Imran Tahir had his moments.
During the series there was a lot of debate, especially amongst the England commentators, who the best cricket coach is. They favored Andy Flower, but after taking India and now the Proteas to the number one spot, Garry Kirsten proved him as the best.
The Proteas owe their success to an exceptional group of players, a brilliant coach, remarkable coaching support staff and a great group of professionals in all support structure.
I salute this team.
I am immensely proud of them.