The Proteas’ fall to seventh in the Test rankings is a sad state of affairs, but it also serves as a reminder that iconic teams from the recent past were as good as it gets, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
During this time when high-quality Proteas Test series are few and far between, I’ve found myself going down YouTube wormholes to revisit iconic highlights from the past.
Graeme Smith dominating against England. Hashim Amla racking up a triple century with consummate ease. A young AB de Villiers slaying the opposition.
Mark Boucher offering expert glovework behind the stumps. Jacques Kallis reigning supreme as one of the game’s greatest all-rounders to have ever played. Dale Steyn roaring in for spells of fast bowling that are pure sporting joy.
Morne Morkel frightening the living daylights out of batsmen. JP Duminy humbling Australia on debut Down Under. Faf du Plessis proving to be an immovable force at the crease. Vernon Philander taking wickets at will with remarkable skill and guile.
And on and on it goes …
In that context, it’s difficult to stomach the fact that the Proteas have now dwindled to seventh in the latest ICC Test rankings, lower than the West Indies and Pakistan.
How the Proteas have got to this point, and how they can ever possibly reach the heady heights of yesteryear, is a column for another day.
For now, though, the feeling of nostalgia when looking back at old highlights actually just got me thinking that we, as cricket lovers, simply didn’t realise just how good we had it.
When you think of the likes of Smith, Kallis, De Villiers, Du Plessis, Amla, Steyn, Morkel and Philander in their prime, it’s clear in hindsight that these were once-in-a-generation players.
Their careers coincided, and we revelled in their success without ever fully acknowledging that this golden era of South African cricket may well have been as good as it’s ever going to get.
It’s difficult to imagine this class of players ever really being matched on the Proteas Test stage.
During these golden periods, South Africa held the top spot in the Test rankings from July 2014 to January 2016.
Yet, this paled in comparison to the 21-month period between August 2012 and May 2014 when they reigned supreme at the top of the rankings. They only lost the No 1-ranking to Australia for a three-month period before regaining it in July.
That South African team was surely the greatest ever, with Smith, Amla, De Villiers, Kallis, Philander, Steyn and Morkel all featuring prominently as the Proteas claimed a sequence of famous victories –including home and away series wins against Australia.
Those were the good old days.
I, for one, realise now just how easily and regrettably these periods of Proteas hegemony on the Test scene were taken for granted.
It’s difficult to see how the South African Test side can ever rise to such heights again, with the majority of the players in those past ‘golden-era’ squads all surefire selections in any World Test XI.
It was an incredible privilege to watch such incredible talents all in action together. Unfortunately, and certainly in light of the current state of affairs, I just wish I’d appreciated it more at the time.