CAPE TOWN — What the South African cricket team have achieved over a sustainable period of time has been nothing short of remarkable, coach Gary Kirsten said on Wednesday.
The Proteas, who have not lost an away Test series since 2006, won their second consecutive series in Australia after their victory in the third Test in Perth. They have a rating score of 123 in the Test rankings, with England in second place on 117.
South Africa take on New Zealand in a two-Test home series next month and captain Graeme Smith said the Tests would provide the Proteas with the opportunity to build on the momentum from Australia.
"It’s been an incredible year," Kirsten said in Cape Town after the team’s return from Australia. "We set our sights on becoming the No1 team in the world and then to hold that position."
This year, the Proteas won a home series against Sri Lanka and away series in New Zealand, England and Australia.
Kirsten said the team wanted to leave a legacy and it was "a very special occasion for the Proteas and South African cricket, and should not be taken lightly".
"They’re a very mature bunch of individuals and play for each other," he said. "They play for the (South African) badge in a way I’ve never seen before."
Smith said he believed the Test group had matured and were capable of handling whatever challenges came their way. "There’s a maturity around the group and it goes into the preparation as well. There’s a maturity in our knowledge of how to be successful, even when away from home, and that has been the biggest thing."
Smith said the players had shown they had the skills to adapt to all conditions.
When injuries occurred, Kirsten said, the replacements did extremely well, even though they did not have much experience at Test level.
"When Faf (du Plessis) came in for the injured JP (Duminy) we were all surprised how well he did," he said. "He played beyond expectations, and the same could be said of Robin Peterson, who gave us something special when he came in for Imran Tahir.
"All credit to the players, who not only saved matches but who performed in high-pressure situations. They have also to get credit for the dominant way they competed right to the end."
Smith indicated earlier this year that he was giving the matter of captaincy a great deal of thought, but he said on Wednesday it was not something he had pondered recently.
"As long as I feel that I can add value as a captain within this environment and lead the guys in the best way possible, then there is no reason for me to walk away.
"We are enjoying the opportunity to be here. We have worked hard to be here and we knew that Australia would be the big stepping stone for us holding on to No1 ranking.
"We have given ourselves the opportunity for our home summer to create a bit of a gap between us and the other teams. It is an opportunity to build something really special. The motivation for us will be to beat New Zealand first up."
South Africa’s success in the Test arena has led to some calling the team the best yet, but Kirsten was quick to play down such suggestions.
"It is a very special achievement for the Proteas and South African cricket. I don’t think that what this team has achieved, over a long period, should be taken lightly. It has been nothing short of remarkable. We have played 10 test matches this year, nine away from home, and won series in England and Australia.
"But it is always difficult to compare (different eras). In terms of this team’s achievements, there is no doubt that they are up there but I think the players would be reluctant to compare with different eras."
South Africa, who became the first team to win consecutive series in Australia since the West Indies in 1992-93, had found success due their growing versatility, Smith said.
"Having players who are able to perform around the world is a key factor…. When you go to another country you have to figure out, how do we win here, how do we deal with the pressures of performing in front of someone else’s media and crowds and handling everything that comes with it?"