SA have become formidable road warriors

2013-03-30 00:00

PART and parcel of a formidable cricket team is the ability to completely crush opponents on their home turf, where the conditions are dictated by them and terms for battle generally involve nullifying the opposition because they’re so unfamiliar with what they are confronted with.

Part of a great, nay, historic team is the ability to adapt to conditions away from home and see opportunities multiply as they are seized.

The honour of the longest unbeaten Test series streak away from home belongs to the West Indies, of course, who purged and plundered from 1980-1995, a dominant record stretching 15 years.

While it would be grossly naïve and ridiculously unfair to compare the Proteas to that dominant West Indies team of yore, their dominance away from South Africa is becoming a crucial cog in the wheel that will keep their No. 1 ranking turning (and earn them a sizeable profit come April 1).

Just over a year ago, the Proteas’ home-record was shaky, but they had become formidable on the road. They were unbeaten away from South Africa since 2006 and with tours away to New Zealand, England and Australia coming up, they had a chance to extend their repertoire as road warriors. And they did.

New Zealand, England and Australia were all dealt with and despite some nervy moments, the Proteas emerged victorious in three out of three tours and managed to send yet another English skipper into resignation.

It’s an impressive list of credentials and the recent struggles of Australia in India and England in New Zealand only highlights just how incredible that record is.

While the Aussies might be in disarray, their ineptitude to adjust to the spinning conditions was an abomination. India were ripe for the picking after just succumbing to a series defeat against England, but Australia failed to take advantage and they looked a shadow of the team which would leave everyone quivering in their boots.

England meanwhile salvaged a plucky draw in New Zealand, thanks to a magnificent ton by South African Matt Prior, but came ever so close to losing to a team who, just a few months ago, were embarrassed by the South Africans and looked like they had plummeted to crisis levels.

South Africa have had their struggles away from home, they have had those nervy moments, but somebody has always stepped up to help dig them out of their hole and enchanted cricket lovers with their presence.

Winning away from home isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be dogged, cruel, unforgiving and downright unpleasant. Yet for almost seven years, South Africa has managed to make it look like a walk in the park. Their prowess was highlighted not only by their rivals’ struggles, but also by the fact that they recently completed their 12 most successful months in cricket.

They have unearthed some spectacular talent who have all eased into the side and credited the environment created by the coaches for their success. That environment, of course, contains some of the world’s best players who remove the pressure from the youngsters to help them go out and just play their natural game. The succession plan, at least in the Test format, seems to be pretty solid.

Their struggles in the shorter format of the game remain and they will have their transition plan tested when the Champions Trophy in England comes knocking in June, but it’s the Test format that really matters and a trip to the United Arab Emirates later in the year offers another opportunity to prove why they are the best.

A lengthy layoff from the longest format of the game will ensure that the Proteas will have some series pressure riding on them.

After that, just one final frontier remains: a convincing Test series win in India. But it’s a pity that the Proteas won’t have the chance to make it happen until at least 2015.

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