Fitting into a winning fabric


While Michael Clarke's men were being forced into meek surrender at Chepauk, elsewhere Kyle Abbott, a last-minute replacement for Jacques Kallis, had just steamrolled the Pakistan batting line-up, recording figures of 7/29 on his South Africa debut. The right-armer's show-stopping heroics had also extended the Proteas' unbeaten streak to 15 matches, further enhancing their Test top-dogs status.

What's more, the 25-year-old became the latest in a series of South African dream debutants. The third seamer in the last 18 months to take five or more wickets in his maiden outing - following Vernon Philander's 5/15 against Australia and Marchant de Lange's 7/81 versus Sri Lanka. In addition to becoming the third South African after Philander and Faf du Plessis to win the Man-of-the-Match award on debut. None since the Aussies in last decade have had youngsters seamlessly fitting into their winning fabric when called upon.

It has meant that those on the fringes have been aware of the need to produce a staggering first impression whenever the elusive opportunity to break into the XI has arrived. To their credit, like Abbott, they've done so admirably. But the formidable core has ensured that the new faces have had guiding lights cushioning their big-stage nerves like with Steyn and Morne Morkel for the seamers. Not too different from the role McGrath and Fleming played to the likes of Brett Lee.

Till the mid-2000s, preview promos had the Sheffield Shield dubbed as a breeding ground of world champions. Understandably so, as the men from Down Under had conquered the length and breadth of the cricketing world. Like with the Lees, Clarkes and Husseys of Australia, Abbott and Philander have swaggered on to the big stage with nerves of steel.

The change of guard is neither a result of provincial cricket in South Africa suddenly having begun to produce an assembly line of world-beaters nor the Australian system having deteriorated. At their peak, Australia boasted of a core group of performers from Hayden and Langer to McGrath and Warne. And the Proteas' present-day dominance too has been built around a bunch of stellar stalwarts led by Graeme Smith, Kallis, Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla.

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