What a piece by Jarrod Kimber of espncricinfo.com. In these days when all kinds of journalism is getting mediocre and flashy one wonders what keeps the espncricinfo.com writers going. I mean one piece after the other. This one by Kimber is couple of notches above their usual good standards as well.
This one is on the South African test team. This is a team which despite a terrific test record between 2006-15 (till India and recent Englad series which they lost badly) does not get any the same laurels. Leave laurels, they are not even mention anywhere. The One Day choker ghost sticks to them despite they performing much better in the gold standards of cricket – test matches. Even better is their performance away from home.
So what is special about the period 2006-15? Well, the team did not lose a single test series away from home in the same period:
Three-thousand two hundred and seventy eight days without a series loss away from home. Two series lost in almost 10 years. No. 1 ranking – twice. They won on all cricket continents. Beating two No. 1-ranked sides on their home turf. And managed to not lose once in Asia.
That is a serious team. All this in an era when the cricket powerhouses have been conspiring against them. When their players have been busy with the IPL, or leaving for county cricket. When the common perception that winning away from home is so hard that independent curators, abandoning the toss, or some other new cricket ruling will be needed to help teams achieve the feat.
Any team that did all that would have to be one of the best Test sides of all time. They should be applauded for even existing. Heavily mourned for their demise. And we should be seriously discussing how great they are.
If this was an England, there would have been 73 books and 1.8 million editorials, about the how great this era of English cricket is. If this was Australia, their swagger and cockiness would be overflowing into every single cricket conversation. If this was India, the discussion about their greatness would have already been ruined by every single comment board on the internet.
But this is South Africa. And they are not the Big Three. Even when there were only three Test nations, they were still not really among the “big three”. Their national press does not hype them, let alone overhype them. They are seen as men doing a good job, nothing more. In cricket terms they are not a cool team. They would rate low in the all-important “second favourite team category”. They are known for bowling well outside off stump, for using spinners to dull your senses, for grinding, grim-faced innings, draws, and humiliating World Cup exits.
They fought internal politics. They fought historical prejudice. They fought richer opponents. They fought for their record. They fought for 30 series, losing twice, all in the shadow of the great TV markets.
They might be great, they might be giants.
The author builds this fascinating story around passion and statistics. A pretty long one which you wish goes on and on.
Best words for the end:
In the history of the sport there haven’t been many eras this successful. Since the 1930s, when Test cricket opened up to more than three sides, there have been four standouts who have been successful home and away, for a long period of time. West Indies ’76-’95, Australia ’95-’07, Australia during and just after Bradman’s career, and England ’51-’60. Then there is a gap. Australia were good in the early ’70s, but ran into the twin powers of Kerry Packer and West Indies.
But no other team has strung together a record like what South Africa have just finished. No team other than West Indies has ever gone this long without losing away from home.
The biggest problem, much like with the English team of the ’50s, is what legacy they leave. West Indies gave us raw, brutal, beautiful, endless pace. Old Australia gave us Bradman. Modern Australia gave us punchy, thuggish, quickfire scoring, and the second coming of legspin. This South African team is much like you would expect a South Africa team would be, only more so. The dynamism of de Villiers aside, this is a clinical, efficient, cricket machine. It’s not a legacy, it’s the tagline of a straight-to-video movie.
They have no legacy. They are not a big-market team. They are probably not a great team.
But they are one of the best five teams of all time. They are giants. They might have to fight in foreign lands for their era to be remembered and respected.
They are used to that.
Way to go Mr. Kimber. Keep them coming..
Kimber has a knack for writing some really good pieces.