AB de Villiers was understandably relieved after getting his first victory under the belt as the new Proteas Test captain after South Africa rode Kagiso Rabada’s record-breaking 13-wicket haul to hammer England by 280 runs in the fourth Test at Centurion on Tuesday.
Although the win was not enough to prevent England from winning the series 2-1, it did bring to an end a run of nine Tests without victory for South Africa, their worst streak since nine draws and a loss between February 1964 and July 1965 against New Zealand and England.
“Teams go through phases and I never felt it was panic stations. In this game we managed to apply pressure for longer and did the basics better, and because of that we got it right in terms of the result, it’s not that complicated. If you do the small things right, more often than not you’ll win.
“It feels a bit like a new beginning, although it’s dangerous to say that. We’re doing the same things we’ve done for the last few years and we haven’t changed our thought processes. Our attitude was always good, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. There are a lot of reasons to feel that,” De Villiers said.
The 31-year-old said his own form with the bat – he made the first pair of his Test career and his third duck in a row – did not taken any shine off the triumph.
“I’ve always said I love it when we win, I honestly don’t care how many ducks I get as long as we win. I’m a very happy man,” De Villiers smiled.
Rabada was an obvious man of the match after his phenomenal performance, beating out brilliant showings by Hashim Amla, Stephen Cook, Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma, with De Villiers saying he was impressed by the 20-year-old’s maturity.
“Every time I asked him to perform he did. He’s shown the maturity of someone who’s played more than a hundred Tests, while he’s got the pace of someone who’s just played one or two!
“KG has impressed us all, we need to look after him very well and make sure that he’s always fresh when he walks on to the field. A guy like him is always hugely exciting,” De Villiers said.
Rabada ensured that it was all over in a rush on the final morning, South Africa needing just 68 minutes to take the last seven England wickets for a paltry 49 runs. After Morne Morkel (three for 36) and spinner Dane Piedt made early strikes, Rabada rushed through the rest to finish with six for 32.
It gave him match figures of 13 for 144, which are unprecedented for a fast bowler of his age.
In the history of Test cricket, only one bowler, Indian spinner Narendra Hirwani, has had a better return at a younger age, taking 16 for 136 for India against the West Indies in Chennai when he was just 19 years and 85 days old.
Rabada’s figures are also the best ever for South Africa against England, and the second-best against all opposition, bettered only by Makhaya Ntini’s 13 for 132 against the West Indies at Port-of-Spain in 2004/5.