Smith revels in South Africa's 'greatest moment'

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The Independent Online

South Africa captain Graeme Smith today hailed his team's historic series triumph over Australia as 'the greatest moment in South African cricket'.

"It's got to be the best," he said. "It's got to be the most incredible season South African cricket has ever had particularly with the results that we've had. I don't think anyone would argue with that."

The South Africans capped off a remarkable 2008 by inflicting Australia's first series defeat at home in 16 years with a crushing nine-wicket victory at the MCG, handing them an unassailable 2-0 lead heading into the third and final Test in Sydney starting on Saturday.

Should they claim victory there, they will take over Australia's mantle as the number one Test nation in the ICC rankings.

"Obviously things have changed a little bit now. It's a real honour for us to sit here today knowing we are the first team in 16 years to come and be victorious on these shores," Smith said.

"The balance of power is evening out in world cricket.

"Credit to Australia, they've dominated world cricket for a decade now and they obviously enjoyed their time. It doesn't mean that they're going to be beaten in future tours or are going to be easy to beat.

"I think the balance is going to be evened out a little bit more now. Maybe other teams are moving into other eras, who knows?"

In 2008 South Africa won 11 of 15 Test matches - which included a series win over England in England and a draw in India - and suffered just two losses.

It was also a breakthrough season personally for Smith, who signed the year off as the leading run scorer in Test cricket with 1656 runs - the third-highest in a calendar year in history behind Pakistan's Mohammed Yousuf and West Indies great Viv Richards.

The 27-year-old said the Proteas could do worse than try to emulate Australia's decade-long dominance of cricket.

"I think the challenge is to maintain the levels that we've played at. That's something you've got to give Australia credit for. That they performed at that level for a decade or so was incredible," Smith said.

"For us, it's going to be an ongoing challenge to keep achieving these standards we've set ourselves. Hopefully we stay fit and keep progressing to the next level of our game."

Australia skipper Ricky Ponting remained upbeat ahead of the Sydney Test and said his team would not give up the top ranking without a fight.

"We've dominated world cricket for a long period of time. I'm still very positive and very sure with some of the young guys coming on that in a few years' time that we can get back up there and be dominating world cricket again," he said.

"A lot of players in the team aren't accustomed to losing Test matches let alone Test series.

"The gap between our best cricket and our worst cricket has been too big, and we have to make that smaller if we want to win the next Test and if we want to stay in that top group of Test-playing nations."

Ponting was also quick to point out that Australia remain on top of the rankings for now.

"At the moment we're still number one, they have to beat us in Sydney to take that mantle from us," he said.

"That's the way that ranking system works but I'm probably sure if you knocked on their door they'll say they're the number one team at the moment."

Ponting admitted Australia had been in winning positions in both Tests but 'when we've needed to put the last couple of nails in the coffin we haven't been able to do that'.

"In fact we've been a long way from being able to do that. That's the disappointing thing," he added.

"What's happened in this series is generally what Australia have done to teams in the past.

"When big moments have come up we've grabbed it with both hands, turned a negative very much into a positive and been able to go on and win games."