CAPTAIN Graeme Smith has been representing South Africa since 2002 and the Test captain believes the current crop of players is the finest of his generation.

Smith’s side have a commanding lead at the top of the world rankings after completing a 3-0 Test whitewash of Pakistan on Sunday.

"This is the best team I have played in as a South African cricketer. We have all our bases covered," the skipper said.

"Part of that is the maturity and professionalism with which they approach every match and the pride they put into their performances.

"There is still more I want to achieve with this side," said the opening batsman, who averages 48.62 in 110 Test appearances. "We want to create a team that plays the game hard but in the right spirit.

"What has been most pleasing about this summer is how clinical we have been, we have never let our intensity drop. That is how we set out to play our cricket," he said.

Of the regular Test line-up, only Jacques Kallis (37), Smith (32) and Alviro Petersen (32) are in their 30s. Coach Gary Kirsten has urged all-rounder Kallis to give up the shorter formats of the game in order to prolong his Test career and that looks likely to happen.

The strength of the first-class domestic competition has helped to fuel success for the Test side.

When injuries robbed South Africa of Kallis, Morné Morkel, JP Duminy and Vernon Philander, their replacements excelled.

The latest is 25-year-old Kyle Abbott, who returned match figures of 9/68 on his debut in the victory by an innings and 18 runs over Pakistan in the third Test in Centurion.

"I think the domestic circuit at the moment is the strongest it has been," said the paceman. "It is credit to the South African system.

"The high-performance centre is fantastic and the South African A side has been running really well for the last two or three years.

"By the time guys reach Test level they are ready," said Abbott.

The next challenge for the Test team is a two-match series against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in November. "Preparation for Abu Dhabi will be key," Smith said.

"You cannot keep guys at the top of their game for eight months when they are not playing Test cricket so it will be about how we approach the build-up to the series," he said.

For the two decades since their return from sporting isolation, South Africa have been among the top teams in the world, without ever having a sustained run as the undisputed No1.

Even in the recent successes, an element of ruthlessness was missing, highlighted by the lack of consecutive Test victories over a four-year span ending with the hard-fought series victory over Australia.

Smith’s men have been unrelenting in correcting that anomaly at home this summer.

Not only have they won all five Tests, they have dominated almost all of them, as the margins suggest: innings and 27 runs, innings and 193 runs, 211 runs, four wickets and at Centurion, innings and 18 runs.

None of those matches went to the fifth day, the opposition was outclassed in the batting, bowling and fielding, and the near-perfect summer silenced any debate over which was the best side in the world — South Africa now enjoy a 10-point lead over second-placed England.

It also quelled murmurs over South Africa’s less than impressive record at home in recent years.

Reuters, Cricinfo.com