South Africa achieved one of the most comprehensive wins in Test history when they beat England by an innings and 12 runs in the first Test at The Oval in London on Monday, but captain Graeme Smith and coach Gary Kirsten pledged they would not take England lightly in the remaining two matches.
South Africa bowled out England twice on a pitch which gave minimal help to the bowlers. They lost only two wickets themselves, piling up a massive 637 for two in their only innings, with man-of-the-match Hashim Amla hitting a South African record 311 not out.
It was an especially surprising margin because England were on top on the first day when they scored 267 for three.
Dale Steyn was South Africa’s hero on Monday, taking three wickets in 16 deliveries with the second new ball as England were bowled out for 240 on the final day. The fast bowler finished with five for 56 to justify his ranking as the world’s leading Test bowler.
The win took South Africa a big step toward earning the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket which they will achieve if they defeat current world No. 1 England in the series. The second Test starts at Headingley in Leeds on Thursday next week.
Smith said in a television interview before flying back to Cape Town to be with his wife for the birth of the couple’s first child: “It’s an extremely proud moment for all of us in our team.”
However, he added: “We are going to Headingley and the conditions will be very different, and we understand it will be a very different Test match.”
Kirsten hailed a “great performance” by his team.
“We think that we can go out and play cricket like that on a regular basis, rather than that being a one-off Test match,” Kirsten said. “I’m not saying we’ll be 650 for two again, but we feel that we can put in really good performances on a daily basis.”
Responding to South Africa’s apparent shortage of preparation ahead of the Test, Kirsten said: “The only way you can prepare effectively for Test match cricket is to play Test match cricket, because it’s very tough to get into Test match intensity mode playing first-class cricket.”
“It’s a very different game. We had 18 days together as a unit, we tried a couple of different things and I thought the guys came into this match mentally fresh,” he said.
Kirsten said, though, that the team’s job was only a third complete.
“We’ve got a great respect for the England cricket team. We know they will try and bounce back. We’re not going to take anything for granted,” he said.
England captain Andrew Strauss gave credit to South Africa.
“We were outplayed in the last four days of the game. We set the game up well on the first day. South Africa used the conditions to their advantage on day two and they never let us back into the game,” he said.
However, Strauss pledged that England would bounce back.
“There are a number of areas where we are frustrated ... there are regrets, but we will learn the lessons and come back strong next week,” he said.
One of Strauss’ regrets was that England were unable to come out of the game with a draw. He said losing four wickets on the fourth afternoon was a disappointment.
“I suppose South Africa had a bit of a psychological advantage with us having been in the field for a period of time. We did not react well enough to that and that leaves a sour taste in the mouth,” he said.