Proteas won the big moments

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By Stuart Hess

It was last season that South Africa finally rid themselves of a somewhat embarrassing monkey on their backs by winning against Sri Lanka – claiming their first Test series win on home soil for four seasons.

Sunday night as he pored over reasons why his side were whitewashed, Pakistan’s captain Misbah ul-Haq remarked that South Africa made better use of the conditions than his side. They certainly did, but for a long while, Graeme Smith’s side seemed to prefer playing elsewhere.

They’ve gone to India and drawn series, won in England, Australia and the West Indies; but until last season they’d struggled at home, largely because they couldn’t get to grips with conditions – particularly at Kingsmead. Smith and Gary Kirsten last week mentioned how hard batting is in South Africa. The South African captain, when asked to reflect on a season in which his side won six out of eight Tests somewhat jokingly responded: “Opening the batting is not easy in South Africa.”

Smith averaged 25.80 for the series with Pakistan, his opening partner Alviro Petersen just 15. Pakistan certainly had the players to exploit the conditions too, but South Africa just did so better. Though it may not have made a difference in the series, had Junaid Khan been fit for Cape Town, Pakistan would have been stronger. Had they played Mohammed Irfan at the Wanderers instead of Rahat Ali, that match might have been closer too.

“The major difference is the conditions,” Misbah said. “When a No1 team is playing in their conditions, everything is going their way. They can exploit their conditions. They know how to bat and bowl here. Conditions really affected the results.”

South Africa was better at exploiting those conditions than had been the case in recent seasons. Australia, England and India have all toured here recently and left with draws – Australia with a young side won the series in 2008/09. The difference this season – besides the absence of a Test in Durban – was that although the South African openers didn’t score heavily, they blunted the new ball. So while Pakistan’s No3 Azhar Ali came into bat on four occasions inside the first 10 overs, Hashim Amla only did so twice – once in the second innings in Cape Town and then in the dead-rubber in Centurion, when for the first time in the series both South African openers were dismissed inside the first 10 overs.

Pakistan’s strong middle order was exposed to a hard new ball and Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and at the weekend Kyle Abbott wreaked havoc. Pakistan simply couldn’t do that thanks in small part to Smith and Petersen playing extra cautiously.

Pakistan’s biggest problem stemmed from not taking advantage of chances they created – and there were plenty. At the Wanderers they bowled out South Africa on the first day, in Cape Town they had them 133/5 and even in Centurion they twice had them under pressure, first at 38/2 and then at 196/5 – and on each occasion South Africa smashed their way out of trouble.

Smith’s side prides themselves on being hard to beat – 15 Tests without a loss suggest that they’re a bloody hard nut to crack – and whereas Pakistan kept coughing up chances, South Africa were ruthless in taking theirs. Smith described their style as being “focussed and clinical,” and it will bring rewards for a long time to come. - The Star

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