The sweet taste of victory
Victory. As sweet as a Somerset cider, which is not even that sweet but that is hardly the point.
As celebrated as the Canterbury cathedral and as capable of blowing your hair back as the whoosh of a train coming through the London underground.
So many different ways to talk about South Africa’s victory over England at the Oval. The best one is to use the word emphatic for everything that happened after day one. A flat South Africa burst into life and shouted the dominance as loud as Big Ben’s chimes. From the three centuries, one of which became the country’s highest individual Test score, to Imran Tahir’s long-awaited arrival as an international cricketer to Dale Steyn’s fiery five, the Proteas bossed the No.1 ranked team in the world.
That was victory. One to be savoured, especially after the way South Africa were underestimated. Some said they were undercooked. They were actually slow cooked, with all the juices and flavours of a perfect lamb shank.
Others said their five bowlers would not be able to compare with England’s four-man attack and that Imran Tahir would be reduced to a club cricketer in the shadow of Graeme Swann. Instead, South Africa managed to take 20 wickets on a track were England’s much-vaunted quartet could only claim two. While Swann battled a sore elbow and turned just one ball, Tahir found bounce and spin and took the wicket that opened England up.
By comparison, the batting was respected but most would have thought twice about a South African scoring in excess of 300 and for the first time in history, England could be up against back-to-back partnerships of over 200. That was victory.
The truth about victory is that, as a feeling, it soon disappears. Even the rain which seemed to embed itself in the English sky the same way stars do, cleared after four months. So too, South Africa should not hang on when the pride of this win starts to evaporate.
Having not won two consecutive Test matches in a series since beating Bangladesh in 2008 and not chalked up two successive Test victories in two years, Headingley is where South Africa need to win.
That seems an obvious statement to make because it will give them the series, the ranking and all the good things that come with that. But it will also prove what Gary Kirsten has been chanting since he took over. It will turn the mythical “process” Kirsten has created into something South Africa’s cricket public can understand and it will give a group of cricketers who have spent six years creating something a chance to finally unveil it.
Whether there should be a rankings system is a debate for another day but on the evidence of the Oval if such as system must exist, South Africa are the rightful frontmen. All that is left for them to do is get to the front. Then victory will be as forthright as a Yorkshireman.