If Jacques Kallis can give SA two more years, they will rule for long: Harsha Bhogle

While some of us in India dramatise the effect of twenty two yards of turf, cricket has shown this week that when armed with a bit of spirit, home advantage isn't the overwhelming force it is sometimes made out to be.

England and New Zealand, hardly the best travellers traditionally, overpowered what were once fairly strong garrisons. And having defended stubbornly in Adelaide, South Africa vanquished Australia at Perth playing the kind of cricket that must make other nations queasy. It has been another magnificent season of Test cricket.

Not one of the three visiting teams had to huff and puff and sneak a result in; they didn't win by a nose, more by a couple of lengths. New Zealand's very impressive young core of Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee helped New Zealand beat Sri Lanka by 167 runs. England powered by a new captain, two fine spinners and a modern genius won by ten wickets on a home-made pitch and South Africa, well...in spite of some irrelevant slogging at the end, beat the Aussies by 309 runs. It could easily have been 400!

The last of those was perhaps most significant because it signifies to me the coming of age of the best South African team since their readmission in 1992. If everyone is fit, South Africa will play Graeme Smith (8569 runs @49.53), Alviro Peterson (1387 @40.79), Hashim Amla (5323 @50.69), Jacques Kallis (12980 @ 56.92 to go with 282 wickets @ 32.57). AB de Villiers (5894 @49.11), Francois du Plessis (293 in 2 tests), JP Duminy (789 @ 37.57), Robin Peterson (194 @ 24 and 20 wickets @ 33), Vernon Philander (267 @ 21 and 67 wickets @ 17.98), Dale Steyn ( 834 @ 14 and 299 wickets @ 23.79) and Morne Morkel (649 @13.8 and 164 wickets @ 30.20)

It is a staggering line up with the batting fit to compare with any in the last thirty years and the pace attack quite the best in the world at the moment. They field brilliantly, have an extraordinary athlete as wicket keeper and if there is a weak link at all, it is with spin. Imran Tahir was never going to be the wrist spinner they craved for and Peterson is a worthy trier. But with a fair degree of instability with other contenders, they look good enough to keep their number one status longer than any of the other recent holders of that distinction.

And it is a team of varying personalities. Graeme Smith is secure as Test captain, scores his share of runs and you realise with a bit of a start given how long he has been around, that he is still only 31. It is not inconceivable that he could have his best years ahead of him. As could four other batsmen in that line up. Hashim Amla, surely at the height of his powers is 29, Francois du Plessis is 28, Jean Paul Duminy is that age too as is the man I believe is the most remarkable cricketer in the world today, AB de Villiers. If Kallis can give them two more years and twenty overs a game, they could rule for long.

In two matches in Australia we saw two completely different facets to de Villiers. Battling to save the game in Adelaide he batted 220 balls without a boundary for 33. The runs were insignificant compared to the approach.

And then at Perth, the natural strokeplayer in him emerged and 169 came from 184 balls. Very very few players in the modern game can switch roles with such ease. Remember he has only recently started keeping wickets in test cricket and he does that as well as anyone else. Before that he easily found a place in a list of the best fielders in the world and at the IPL this year produced one of the most stunning displays of inventive batting I have ever seen. Against Dale Steyn steaming in! He must be some cricketer!

Allan Donald thinks this is the best pace attack they have had since readmission and even if that is the view of a doting elder brother, it is still the best in the world at the moment and a handful on any surface.

In the modern era a bowler who takes wickets at less than 25 per wicket is rare. South Africa have two in Steyn and Philander and Morkel could well be embarking on the best phase of his career.

And while Kallis can no longer crank up those muscles to deliver 140 kmph, he is still sharp over short spells, which is really all that South Africa need. I still believe Donald himself at his peak with Shaun Pollock, a young Kallis and Lance Klusener might outperform this team, especially since Pat Symcox or Paul Adams might have provided better spin support. But this team outbats even as distinguished a line up as Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, Darryl Cullinan, Kallis as he was at the turn of the century, Hansie Cronje and Jonty Rhodes. Yes, this has to be the best.

And meanwhile test cricket continues to bloom as I write this after day one of the test in Kolkata where for six hours bat and ball were locked in the kind of contest no other sport can provide.

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