Smith Challenges South Africa to Keep No. 1 Test Cricket Ranking

Having usurped England as Test cricket’s top-ranked team, South Africa must improve if it’s to stay No. 1, captain Graeme Smith said.

South Africa completed a 2-0 series victory against England yesterday, winning the final Test in London by 51 runs to replace its opponent atop the International Cricket Council’s rankings. The Proteas last held the top spot in November 2009.

“We need to have a strong enough base so when the wind blows we can handle ourselves,” Smith said at the post-match presentation. “We need to increase the depth of our bowling. We need to have players that can come in and perform at this level so there’s a lot of things we need to be looking at.”

The 2-0 result is the first time since 1960 that the victory margin in a series between the teams has been greater than one Test. South Africa won the opener by an innings and 12 runs before the second match finished in a draw after being disrupted by rain. The South Africans held off a late victory push by England at Lord’s yesterday.

Needing to win the match to extend its yearlong run at No. 1, England was bowled out for 294 chasing the victory target of

346. Wicket-keeper Matt Prior scored 73 to keep the contest alive into the last session on the final day. Man of the match Vernon Philander finished with 5-30 and seven wickets overall as well as scoring 96 runs.

“South Africa were just a bit too good,” England captain Andrew Strauss said in a news conference. “They outplayed us over the course of the three Test matches. We’ve got to take that on the chin, try to work out why that was the case and how best to move forward.”

Australia Next

South Africa next plays a best-of-three contest against third-ranked Australia beginning Nov. 9 in Brisbane. England is scheduled to visit No. 5 India for a four-Test series starting Nov. 15.

“There’s lots of teams that are sitting at the top who are outstanding teams,” said Smith. “We’ve got Australia next and that’s going to be an awesome challenge for us.”

Strauss, who was playing in his 100th Test, didn’t say whether he’d continue in the captaincy position that he took up in 2008.

The buildup to the series finale was dominated by England’s dropping of Kevin Pietersen after the South Africa-born batsman sent text messages to opposition players that contained derogatory comments about Strauss and also provided advice about how to bowl against him, U.K. media reported.

“We’ll see how things go,” Strauss told reporters. “From a physical point of view it was a tiring week, but that passes pretty quickly. I’m keen to get away for a few days and have a bit of a break.”

Lord’s Loss

South Africa won the final match after scoring 309 and 351. England replied with 315 in its first innings and entered the last day needing another 330 to win after losing opening batsmen Strauss and Alastair Cook leg before wicket in the final session on day four.

Although England’s batsmen played their shots to try and chase down the target yesterday, Philander wrapped up the win by having Prior caught by Smith and then combining with Jacques Kallis to remove Steven Finn with the next delivery.

It was South Africa’s second straight Test series victory in England. The home team had been undefeated in Tests at Lord’s since the 2005 Ashes series against Australia, and had gone to No. 1 by sweeping India 4-0 at home a year ago.

Since then, Strauss’s team has lost six of 11 Tests and its only series victory came against the West Indies at home.

“When you’re number one people try to gun you down and we’ve come unstuck a few times,” Strauss said. “It’s obviously going to be a shame to hand over that mace to South Africa, but right at the moment they deserve to be No. 1.”

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