In 2003, South Africa had a disastrous World Cup at home in which they could not make it past the Group Stage. But they were still the undisputed second-best team in the world (after Australia).
22 year-old Graeme Smith had been made South Africa’s captain in both the formats amidst wide skepticism and criticism.
Now, they were touring England that same summer.
An ODI tri-series preceded the Test tour. South Africa’s problems were compounded after a poor showing and a thrashing at the hands of England in the final.
The Test series was to follow.
South Africa needed to restore some lost pride. After all, they had won 11 and lost just 2 (both to Australia) of their previous 14 Test series since the new millennium.
For a man nicknamed “Biff” for his muscular presence, Smith had not cut an imposing figure yet – his failure rate in his first ten Tests was 70% – entirely unacceptable for a specialist batsman.
England, meanwhile, had lost their previous two Ashes and only won two home series (against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe) in the last two years. Hussain, still the Test skipper, was desperate to do well.
Previously, England had dominated South Africa at home having won 10 of the 13 series (including the previous tour in 1998). South Africa had just won two.
The series-opener in Birmingham in July 2003 was a high-scoring draw. Smith scored a brisk 277 in the first innings – the highest Test score by a South African batsman at the time and followed that up with a quickfire 85 in the second.
The match had serious ramifications as a worn out Hussain resigned as Test captain and handed over the mantle to Vaughan.
Lord’s hosted the second Test. It was Smith’s twelfth since debut and only his fourth as captain. England, put in, were knocked over for 173 by Makhaya Ntini and Andrew Hall.
In reply, South Africa amassed 682 for 6 – their highest innings-score till date in England. Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs put together their second century partnership of the series adding 133 for the opening wicket. Smith was the aggressor and he notched up his ton in just 155 deliveries.
A listless English bowling attack was taken to the cleaners as Smith registered a successive double hundred in just 287 deliveries. This was only the seventh instance of a consecutive double hundred in Test cricket history (the feat has been achieved only twice more thereafter).
The second-wicket stand of 257 between him and Gary Kirsten (108) put South Africa in a commanding position. But Smith was not done yet. He combined with Boeta Dippenaar and added 123 for the third-wicket before finally being dismissed for 259.
England did put up a fight in the second innings with Andrew Flintoff blasting a hundred but it was a case of too little too late. Ntini picked up a second fifer in the match. The hosts were bowled out for 417. South Africa won by an innings and 92 runs.
In fact, it was staggering that Smith’s
Smith failed as a batsman in the next three Tests (
In a see-saw battle, England came from behind to draw level the five-match series at 2-2.
South Africa let go of the advantage they had gained after the first two Tests. But historically and with all that had transpired in the last six months, it was not a bad series result for South Africa.
It set a foundation. They would win their next two Test series in England.
From 1.87 to 2.88.
Hereafter, Smith was the sixth-highest impact batsman in the world (behind Kumar Sangakkara, AB de Villiers, Misbah-ul-Haq, Matthew Hayden and Jacques Kallis) till he retired.
Smith is the third-highest impact batsman in South Africa’s Test cricket history after de Villiers and Kallis.
He is the third-highest impact opener (after Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton) in the history of Test cricket.
Smith remains South Africa’s greatest series-winner with the bat with seven series-defining (
It is safe to say that this series marked a turning point.
Art- Gokul Chakravarthy
NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.