Tour review

South Africa v Pakistan, 2012-13

Graeme Smith scored a half-century in his 100th Test as captain, South Africa v Pakistan, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 2nd day, February 2, 2013
Graeme Smith scored a half-century in his 100th Test as captain © AFP
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Series/Tournaments: Pakistan tour of South Africa

Test matches (3): South Africa 3, Pakistan 0
Twenty20 internationals (2): South Africa 0, Pakistan 1
One-day internationals (5): South Africa 3, Pakistan 2

New Zealand had played their part perfectly as an appetising, though insubstantial, starter to the South African season. Could Pakistan provide a more challenging main course? The answer was a deflating no. The cricket was mainly gristly and ultimately disappointing, with little to linger on the palate. It's true that a beleaguered Cricket South Africa emerged from two years of political infighting at board level, and excelled themselves in promoting Graeme Smith's 100th Test as captain - including one in charge of the World XI - with a series of eye-catching and appropriately chosen celebrations before the First Test at the Wanderers. But, while Pakistan may have been determined not to just make up the numbers, there was a distinct feeling in the build-up to the series of distant cousins at a family gathering.

South Africa were relieved that the controversy surrounding the non selection of wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile faded in the afterglow of A. B. de Villiers's record-equalling haul of 11 dismissals at Johannesburg. De Villiers had been Mark Boucher's designated understudy on the tour of England seven months earlier, and was such a success that coach Gary Kirsten asked him to carry on for the Australian tour at the end of the year. Tsolekile was named as de Villiers's deputy in England, with an "understanding" provided by selection convenor Andrew Hudson that he would assume the main role for the home season against New Zealand and Pakistan.

But de Villiers enjoyed the combined roles of middle-order fulcrum and keeper far more than he had expected, and expressed his willingness to carry on. "I want to become the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world," he said. It was something Kirsten was only too happy to hear. There were many critics, however, who felt the need for a black African player was more important than seven batsmen.

Those more interested in results had no complaints. The series whitewash was just the third achieved by South Africa in a series of three Tests or more, following the Ali Bacher-led 4-0 defeat of Australia in 1969-70, and Hansie Cronje's 5-0 drubbing of a weak and disjointed West Indian team in 1998-99. Smith was immense as a leader and a personality, spurning opportunities to win enormously in favour of winning quickly. "Winning in three days is like scoring 700," he explained. But every bit as impressive were his senior players, none more than de Villiers and Dale Steyn, whose 11 for 60 at the Wanderers was a career-best and a record fifth ten-wicket haul for South Africa. De Villiers made a mountain of runs and kept immaculately. Pakistan were roundly criticised by former players for their inadequacies against the swinging ball - and, as usual, for their inability to cope with extreme pace and bounce. But they couldn't be faulted for their attitude or effort.

Their own pace-bowling attack was one of the most inexperienced they had fielded, especially when Umar Gul was omitted for the Third Test, leaving Ehsan Adil, Rahat Ali and Mohammad Irfan with a grand total of two caps. Irfan was the highlight for the tourists. South Africans were obsessed by his enormous height - usually given as 7ft 1in, which would make him the tallest Test player of all time - and the home batsmen took to having throw downs from colleagues perched on cooler boxes. It was a distraction from his talent, however. Not only did Irfan swing the ball, he did so consistently, at around 87mph. He enjoyed no luck whatsoever in the two Tests he did play - but needed none in the one-day series, in which he made the greatest contribution in the two matches Pakistan won.

But they failed to take any of the Tests into a fifth day, and they lost the one day series, too. It's hard to imagine that their victory in what turned out to be the solitary Twenty20 match was much consolation. The South Africans, meanwhile, stretched their lead at the top of the ICC Test rankings - and seemed to unearth another fast-bowling talent when the 25-year-old Kyle Abbott blew Pakistan away at Centurion. The questions about whether they were a great team had universally given way to how great they were.

Match reports for

Tour Match: South African Invitation XI v Pakistanis at East London, Jan 25-28, 2013

1st Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Johannesburg, Feb 1-4, 2013
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Tour Match: Emerging Cape Cobras v Pakistanis at Cape Town, Feb 10-11, 2013

2nd Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Cape Town, Feb 14-17, 2013
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3rd Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Centurion, Feb 22-24, 2013
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1st T20I: South Africa v Pakistan at Durban, Mar 1, 2013
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2nd T20I: South Africa v Pakistan at Centurion, Mar 3, 2013
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Tour Match: South African Invitation XI v Pakistanis at Kimberley, Mar 6, 2013

1st ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Bloemfontein, Mar 10, 2013
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2nd ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Centurion, Mar 15, 2013
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3rd ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Johannesburg, Mar 17, 2013
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4th ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Durban, Mar 21, 2013
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5th ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Benoni, Mar 24, 2013
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© John Wisden & Co.