Smith proud of Proteas triumph
Skipper Graeme Smith ranks South Africa’s Investec Test series victory over England as one of his greatest achievements in cricket.
The Proteas leapfrogged their hosts to the top of the International Cricket Council rankings after a 51-run win at Lord’s completed a 2-0 success in the three-match rubber.
Smith was at the helm in 2008 when the Proteas successfully toured England but, with Andrew Strauss’ side's formidable record at home since then, the 31-year-old believes this time around was all the more special.
“For us to come back and do it again is a better feeling for me,” he said. “It’s hard to replace some of those moments from 2008, but we came here knowing England were number one in the world and an outstanding cricket team at home in these conditions.
“They have performed well in Australia and I know they struggled against Pakistan in the sub-continent, but in these conditions they were going to be an outstanding team. For us to beat them at home is one of the greatest achievements of my career and I am proud of each guy.
“There were contributions all across the board; there wasn't just one or two individuals that carried us. Everyone stepped up when they needed to and, in this Test match in particular, there were different people who contributed.
“The hundred from Hashim (Amla) was outstanding, the tail-end partnerships, the efforts with the ball and the catching was great.”
Smith' focus is now on maintaining high standards to ensure South Africa don’t slip from top spot.
Asked which achievement ranked the highest, beating England or rising to the Test summit, he said: “I think it’s the initial achievement of coming to England and winning 2-0.
“We have been here for a long time and to maintain the high standards from the first warm-up game to now has been a great achievement from the management and the players.
“Initially it was just to get over that emotion of winning, but to get to number one, which is what we have pushed for for a while, I think tonight and the next couple of days is for us to enjoy that.
“The challenge is the same challenge as it was for England. We need to have a strong enough base so when the wind blows, it doesn't blow us over. Hopefully we can maintain these standards for a long period of time."
Smith struggled for form and had an ankle injury to recover from prior to this tour, but bounced back emphatically with 272 runs, including a century on his 100th Test appearance.
“From a personal perspective, last year was extremely tough. So to come back like I have, to perform well here and have these milestones means a lot,” he explained. “You have got to let your cricket do the talking and I always knew that was going to be the case.
“I need time to reflect on these achievements, but to be the person to put South Africa in the space with so many wonderful cricketers and names is something I am certainly very proud of.”
England were always up against it today, losing two early wickets as they began to chase down 346 to level the series and retain their place at the Test summit.
After Jonathan Trott and Jonny Bairstow contributed half-centuries, Matt Prior threatened to get his side over the line with partnerships of 62 and 74 with Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann.
However, Vernon Philander returned with the new ball to remove the wicketkeeper-batsman and Steven Finn in successive deliveries to claim his seventh Test five-wicket haul and dismiss England for 294.
Smith admitted he was worried about the outcome when Prior and Swann were in full flow in an enthralling final session.
“Naturally, you are concerned. The thing that concerned me was they were playing some incredible cricket shots; out of the rough, reverse sweeps, sweeps and slogs over long-on,” he added.
“I have never seen Graeme Swann hit so many good pull shots and cover drives in my life. I must give Matt Prior some credit; he has been a top performer in this series and kept England in a solid position.
“We have had opportunities to get through England, but he has been that pillar at number seven and again today. For me, it was all about hanging in there, doing the right things and get ourselves the new ball and get an opportunity. In the end that is what happened."
Philander's credentials were questioned ahead of the series, despite his remarkable start to Test cricket.
The man-of-the-match, who took seven wickets and struck 96 runs at Lord’s, responded to his critics by saying: “The stats don’t lie! I knew there was a big performance just around the corner and luckily it came out in this big game. I think I bowled well the whole series.”