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Fri Oct 31 17:01:53 SAST 2014

Kirsten's knights rule world

Firdose Moonda | 06 February, 2013 00:19
Firdose Moonda
Image by: The Times

Four. The number of Tests South Africa have won in succession. None. The number of Tests South Africa have lost in the past 13 months.

Those statistics illustrate two things: Graeme Smith's men are difficult to beat and they know how to win. In Test cricket, those are not the same things. It is also an indicator that the era of dominance South African cricket is so determined to establish has already begun.

Consider that when West Indies bossed the scene they went 11 years without losing a series. Steve Waugh's Australians went 10 series unbeaten and Ricky Ponting's won three-quarters of the series they played.

South Africa lost one of their last 22 series against Australia in 2009. They won the last five. If they also notch up victory in the ongoing rubber against Pakistan, they will have gone four years without a series defeat. This year is the seventh year of their unbeaten streak on the road.

Call it what you like: Smith's South Africa, the rise of the 22-year-old (that's how old Smith was when he took over the captaincy, and how long it has been since readmission) or Kirsten's knights, this is a team we will talk about for years to come.

At the moment, it is just too difficult to see a way for other sides to beat South Africa. Coach Gary Kirsten puts it down to the two all-rounders, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, and he is correct.

Kallis's worth to cricket may only be fully appreciated in the future, but his status as the best cricketer this country has ever produced and the best all-rounder across the ages is growing.

De Villiers's value deserves greater scrutiny. The political implications of making him the full-time wicketkeeper are fading away. Cricket SA's new board told the media at the AGM that they will not look into it any further and the selectors got away with creating an expectation to a player that did not materialise. Lucky.

But De Villiers's form is also helping put the issue to bed. He has two centuries from his last four Tests, both at a good strike-rate, and his keeping has improved too. His spatial awareness is better, his confidence obviously higher and his contributions to the team more telling.

What De Villiers has, that other batsmen at No5 do not, is freedom. The top four very rarely put South Africa in positions from where the lower order has to do a rescue job. Most often, by the time De Villiers gets to crease, a platform has been laid. "It makes it easier for me to come in with less pressure," he said.

In other words, he has a licence to take off. That he has the ability to do that is what gives South Africa an added advantage. De Villiers and South African cricket have benefited from selection policies which accommodate his needs and the talent to make those adjustments worthwhile. South African cricket will get stronger if other worthy players are treated in the same way.

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