Even as South Africa have not quite got their bearings right in the one-day format, they have continued to reassert their status as the number one Test side in the world with some domineering performances. Their demolition of Pakistan inside four days at Johannesburg was the latest in a growing list of memorable triumphs since being officially anointed the numero uno side in the five-day format. It has taken two decades of sheer hard work and innumerable obstacles for the Proteas to reach the pinnacle. And the way they are executing their plans, it seems they aren’t keen to give away the crown too quickly.
The Johannesburg Test saw the hosts put up a thoroughly dominating show. Although Pakistan would have been elated by the manner in which they bowled out South Africa cheaply on the opening day, their joy was short-lived. Dale Steyn completed exposed Pakistan’s weaknesses against fast bowling during a hostile spell that completely changed the momentum of the game. All the early advantage that Pakistan had gained on day one with some admirable bowling was undone by Steyn, who was near unplayable. Having said that, Pakistan should have done better than succumb to their lowest Test total.
After gunning down the Pakistan batting, the match was South Africa’s for the taking. But, they did well not to get complacent and put up a much-improved batting effort a second time round. This was not essential not only in the context of the game, but that of the series since South Africa need their batsmen to be in form against a reasonably competent Pakistan bowling line-up. Half-centuries by skipper Graeme Smith (leading in his 100th Test) and Hashim Amla, and the quickish ton by A B de Villiers would have given the hosts further confidence.
To their credit, Pakistan batted much better in the second innings, but it wasn’t good enough to prevent a huge defeat. Teams rarely win after scoring 49 in their first innings. While there were significant improvements in their second dig, Pakistan’s performance with the bat was still below par by Test standards. Three of their main batsmen got starts, but none could convert it into a big score. Also, there was only one partnership of note – the one between captain Misbah-Ul-Haq and Azad Shafiq. Once they were separated, Pakistan capitulated all over again, which is not a good sign for them heading into the next Test
Steyn was at his best in the second innings as well, undoing Pakistan with his pace and bounce. But, there were other positives too for the Proteas. A B de Villiers, who is being given a run as a potential full-time wicket-keeper batsman, ended the game with as many victims as Steyn – 11. It would be a herculean task for de Villiers to keep wickets in Tests on a regular basis. As long as the bowlers are doing the job, it would be somewhat easygoing for him though.
All in all, an intensely magnificent performance by South Africa, worthy of the best side in the world.
--By A Cricket Analyst