Every two to three years, Australia will visit South Africa for a Test series plus whatever combination of the shorter version of the game the cricket bosses can fit into the remainder of the time, while two to three years later, the Proteas will go Down Under to honour their commitments. But when it comes to South Africa visiting England, the tour has become more significant than merely honouring the future tours programme.
In this case, the Proteas’ visit doesn’t only signal the completion of another touring schedule, but over the last decade-and-a-half, have strangely coincided with the end of the England Test captaincy cycle.
In 2003, still reeling after their dismal World Cup showing, Nasser Hussain stepped down as Test captain after the first Test in Birmingham finished in a draw after fresh-faced Proteas captain Graeme Smith bludgeoned the England attack with scores of 277 and 85. Michael Vaughan, who himself scored 156 in the first innings at Edgbaston and one of the world’s leading batsman at the time, took the reins from Hussain and held on to them for all of five years, which included an historic Test series win in South Africa.
But when the Proteas took an unassailable 2-0 lead after three Tests in 2008, Vaughan, much like his predecessor, relinquished the captain’s armband during the series. Kevin Pietersen took over and celebrated his newfound responsibility in fine style with a hundred, but the former South African’s off-field shenanigans brought an abrupt end to his reign, paving the way for Andrew Strauss to lead the side for the next four years. But despite helping England win the Ashes on home soil, Strauss also met his match in the aftermath of South Africa’s Smith leading his side through the aircraft doors.
The Proteas won the three-match series 2-0, not only dethroning England as the No 1-ranked Test team, but also knocking Strauss off his perch in customary fashion, as the Englishman announced his retirement from the game a few days later.
And Smith completes a rare hat-trick. My theory is that Alastair Cook, who took over the reins from Strauss, is smarter than he looks. It is easy for him to proclaim that “the time is right’’ for him to step down after their embarrassing Test defeat away to Bangladesh and losing 4-0 to India. Of course he will say that, because it makes perfect sense and he can walk away looking very honourable. But I reckon a quick glance at the schedule probably sealed the deal.
“Let’s see if I can turn things around in the next year,’’ I can imagine he thought to himself over a cup of Earl Grey while licking his wounds in his posh Indian hotel suite. “Hmmmm, the West Indies at home, promising,’’ he continued while studying their upcoming matches. ‘’Oh blimey, bloody hell! South Africa visiting next, I’m stuffed!’’
Seeing that it will be Joe Root’s first series as captain, I can’t see him quitting. So damn, that takes a huge part of the fun out of our tour to England. Where is Graeme Smith when you need the bugger?