South Africa head coach Mark Boucher on Friday ranked the remarkable, come-from-behind 2-1 series win against World No. 1 India as one of the best in their history of Test cricket.
Trailing 0-1 after losing the Boxing Day opening Test at Centurion, the Dean Elgar-led side showed immense resilience to win back-to-back matches at the Wanderers and Newlands to upset the firm favourites.
"To put it into perspective we have lost three tosses. A lot of people, including some of the media, had written us off after day one of the first Test of the series," Boucher said at the post-match media interaction.
"So, to come back after losing the first Test badly and then to win the second Test and now win the third Test is pretty incredible. It will rank up there -- in top five must be. Where we've come from, the on-field and off-field stuff... It's good to get some good results. The way the whole Test series was played was hard fought, some good cricket, it must be up there with some of the best Test series to have played in South Africa."
Will take a lot of confidence from this triumph
Going into the series, the hosts were short on experience as they played their first Test in six months at Centurion. They played just six Tests under new captain Elgar as Australia opted not to travel for a four-match series last March.
Elgar started his journey with a 2-0 win over the West Indies before losing to India in the Boxing Day Test.
"It's certainly something that we can take a lot of confidence from. This team is on a mission, really. We've been through some tough times of late and they have driven in a way that is pretty special. I'm incredibly proud of where they come from in a short period of time and the results are starting to come through now which is fantastic. Our feet are firmly on the ground. We know that we're not the finished product. We've got goals ahead of us. So we will enjoy this win," Boucher said.
Going into the fourth day's play, South Africa started from 101 for two and finished the task with as many as seven wickets in hand.
"These guys deserve it. They've been through a lot together as a unit. So it's just nice to see that. It's a close knit group of guys. The World Cup was a massive disappointment, although we played some good cricket throughout. It is just something that was really needed in our dressing room to put the hard work in."
Not surprised with the character shown
In both the Tests, the inexperienced side under Elgar were set tricky targets of over 200 in bouncy conditions. Elgar showed the way in Johannesburg, helping the side chase down 240 in a seven-wicket win. Here, Keegan Petersen top-scored with 82 -- his third successive Test fifty -- as the hosts chased down the 212-run target.
"It doesn't surprise me because you got Dean as well who's that sort of character who leads from the front. You've got Temba (Bavuma) as the vice-captain who is the same fighter with that spirit in him, so you've got two leaders like that who the guys are going to follow. The guys stood up with regards to their own games as well."
Boucher added, "To put these things into perspective about where this team is and where the Indian team is... They are probably the best team in world cricket Test-wise at the moment. They've gone over to England, beat England, beat Australia in Australia. So this is something that our boys won't take for granted."
Loss for words for Keegan
For South Africa, Petersen and 21-year-old lanky left-arm pacer Marco Jansen were the finds of the series.
Heaping praise on the duo, Boucher said: "You get two youngsters who have just come into the side. Both of them deserve their little spotlights."
Petersen, who was playing only his second series after a lacklustre debut against the West Indies in June, impressed with his solidity and composure at No. 3.
The 28-year-old scored three fifties in four innings and each time bettered his score to be adjudged Man of the Series. He was also the Man of the Match in their series-clinching win here.
"Keegan probably didn't start off as well in the West Indies as he would have liked. Then he didn't start off too well at the Supersport Park. But he's always shown signs of the player that we are seeing right now. He just stuck to his guns. He's in a good position to have a guy like Dean next to him. He (Dean) really backs him. He's a tough nut and batting at No. 3 in Test cricket, you have got to be tough, you got to know your game, technically you got to be sound as well. Hopefully he just gets better, better and better. It's a very tough position to play in South Africa in our conditions, batting at No. 3. The way that he's come through the series, I'm at a loss for words. In a big series, against big players and to get the Man of the Series, he fully deserved it," Boucher said of Petersen.
Found a superstar in Jansen
Uncapped left-arm seamer Jansen was a revelation and grew from strength to strength after an unimpressive debut in the Boxing Day Test.
"When you lose out a guy like Andre Nortje (hip injury), it was a big loss for us but then you get Marco coming to the side. We are really in a good space at the moment. A lot of people questioned his selection in the first Test. He didn't start off too well and the media jumped on him a bit, which I thought was quite unfair," he said of Jansen.
"But we saw what he had in Pakistan. He was with us in the West Indies, and it was just a matter of time before he came through because we can see the skillset that he's got and the variation. Now when we look at him and probably everyone's looking the same, what a find we've got, another addition to our bowling attack. He has a lot of cricket to learn. We find a superstar in him as well. He's only going to get better," he said.
Averaging a superb 16.47, Jansen finished with 19 wickets, behind their top wicket taker Kagiso Rabada (20).
We've turned the corner quite a while ago
The head coach further went on to say that they have turned the corner after some forgettable performances in the recent past including a group-stage exit in the 2021 T20 World Cup.
"I believe that we've turned the corner quite a while ago. Our results have been pretty solid over the last six months to a year. We had the chance to try a few players. I think that's starting to come good now because we started to get a depth of cricketers that we can turn to," he signed off.