I just couldn’t stand the sight of captain Steve Waugh’s steely stare from underneath his battered baggy green cap. Why? Because they were so damn good. Okay, okay … so call it a closet-type envy kind of a thing. They never gave an inch in home Tests and klapped almost every other team in their own backyards – bar the odd series on the subcontinent – as Waugh’s stupendous record of 37 wins in 43 Test matches will indicate.
But in all their overall greatness, three things from Waugh’s team always stood out for me. Firstly, their uncanny ability to fight back when the chips were down was what irked me most of the time. Sure, they were more used to landing knockout punches than being on the receiving end, but they sure as hell knew how to lift themselves off the canvas and fight back.
Just when you thought you had them on the ropes, some gutsy bugger would slam the door shut within the next session. Secondly, their trusted combination of seven batsmen – with the swashbuckling wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist in at No 7 – three seamers and a spinner did the trick without their selectors ever having to overthink the need for an all-rounder.
I am talking about the days before Shane Watson became a regular fixture in their line-up. With right-arm seamers in Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie bowling in tandem with spin wizard Shane Warne, they never had any problem getting 20 wickets.
Over in Mzansi we were always singing our own praises of how blessed we were to have quality all-rounders in Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock and how it gave the selectors more options. But there was a period of roughly a decade during which Kallis and Pollock could help the Proteas win no more than two from 18 Tests against Australia.
And then thirdly, what probably irked me the most, was the ever-ready production line of replacements stepping up to the plate when one of their big boys missed a Test. They had leggie Stuart MacGill who was said to have turned the ball more than Warne, the honest workhorse seamer Andy Bichel, who always took his limited chances with both hands, and seemingly dozens of batsmen like Brad Hodge, who scored a double hundred against the Proteas in Perth and got dropped before the end of the series.
Over the last few weeks, probably induced by the lonely confines of my living room in the wee hours of the morning while getting up to watch the Proteas record their emphatic third consecutive Test series win Down Under, I came to some startling conclusions.
Firstly, the Proteas can get out of jail with the best of them. They were 81/5 in their first innings in Perth … say no more. Secondly, they clinched the series with six top-class batsmen, our own Gilchrist in Quinton de Kock at No 7 and three right-arm seamers and a spinner.
Well, actually only three bowlers were enough, as Steyn was crocked in Perth and Keshav Maharaj was hardly needed in Hobart. Lastly, they achieved the feat without the premier bowler and batsman of the last decade, Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers.
Turns out their batting depth was rocksolid and bowling-wise our very own Bichel again emerged in Kyle Abbott. Boy, those Aussies must hate us right now.