The year 2012 was a special one for South African cricket as the national team, the Proteas, became the number one ranked team in test cricket, winning four series during the course of the year. Cricket is a team sport, but within the South African team it also took some special individual performances to take it to the top.
The side began the year with a test series against Sri Lanka. The three matches ended in decisive victories, two for South Africa and one for Sri Lanka.
Vernon Philander captured 10 wickets as South Africa romped to victory by an innings and 81 runs in the first test in Centurion, but the series was astonishingly levelled in Durban where the islanders triumphed by a massive 208 runs.
With the series on the line, the Proteas posted 580 for 4 declared in their first innings in Cape Town behind 224 from Jacques Kallis, 160 not out from AB de Villiers and 109 from Alviro Petersen. They went on to win by 10 wickets, needing to score just two runs in their second innings.
When victories came for the Proteas in 2012, they were to prove, like the one in Cape Town, very decisive.
New Zealand tour
In March, the Proteas toured New Zealand. There were two draws, but in the second test they won inside three days, crushing the Kiwis by nine wickets as Philander returned match figures of 10 for 114, including 6 for 44 in the Black Caps' second innings.
In July, the Proteas - ranked second in the world - took on England - ranked number one - in a three-test series in England, with the number one ranking on the line.
When the series kicked off, England finished the first day of the first test at The Oval on 267 for 3. They looked to be in a strong position, ready to dictate matters, but from then on it was South Africa's match in the most extraordinary way.
They bowled England out for 285 on day two and finished it on 86 for 1. Day three was a torturous one for the England bowlers as Proteas' skipper Graeme Smith, with 131 in his 100th test, Hashim Amla with 183 not out, and Jacques Kallis, with 83 not out, took the game to the hosts, and South Africa to 403 for 2 at the close.
On day four, Amla became the first South African to score a test triple century. When Smith declared on 637 for 2, Amla was unbeaten on 311, Kallis had 182, and together they had added an unbroken 377.
By stumps, England were in serious trouble, on 102 for 4 in their second innings, and on day five South Africa duly took the series lead after securing victory by an innings and 12 runs as Dale Steyn picked up a five-for.
After a draw in the second test, a tension-filled third test played out at Lords. Innings of 61 by JP Duminy and Vernon Philander rescued South Africa from 163 for 6 as the Proteas tallied 309 in their first innings. England bettered that by six runs as Jonny Bairstow top scored with 95.
Batting again, the Proteas - behind a superb 121 from Amla - posted 351 all out, leaving England needing 346 to win; never before had a target that size been successfully chased at Lords in the fourth innings of a test match.
Philander quickly reduced England to 16 for 2 overnight and matters looked dire when they slipped to 45 for 4 on the last day. Bairstow and Jonathan Trott launched an aggressive counter-attack, though, and took the score to 134 before Bairstow fell for 54, followed shortly afterwards by Trott for 63.
Matt Prior then took the game to South Africa, but he lost Stuart Broad for 37 and Graeme Swann for 41 before escaping being caught after a slow motion replay showed Morne Morkel had bowled a no ball.
The new ball was taken with England in sight of 300, but Philander quickly wrapped up the match and series victory by dismissing Prior for 73 and Steven Finn for a duck to secure a 51 run win for South Africa as England fell for 294.
Hashim Amla shared the Man of the Series award with Prior and the Proteas received the ICC Mace, given to the number one test team in the world.
One more series - beginning in November - remained and it was a tough one, taking on Australia Down Under.
Although South Africa put up a healthy 450 all out in the first innings of the first test, they found themselves on the back foot as Australia posted 565 for 5 declared in reply, with captain Michael Clarke finishing unbeaten on 259. The test was comfortably drawn, though.
Although it ended in draw, the second test was a tough one for the Proteas, but it ultimately played a huge role in their success in the third test.
Clarke hit 230 as Australia enjoyed a first innings lead of 162 runs. Then, after he declared their second innings on 267 for 8, South Africa required 430 for victory and they looked in serious trouble when they began the final day on 77 for 4.
Faf du Plessis, playing in his debut match because of an injury to JP Duminy, played a superb innings to save the game for the Proteas. Following on his 78 in the Proteas' first knock, he finished on 110 not out as South Africa batted 148 overs to salvage a draw and take the fight out of the tired Aussie bowlers. Saving the contest in such a manner set them up for victory in the third test and when it came it was one-sided.
In Perth, after day one it looked as if Australia were on top, though. They had bowled the Proteas out for 225, with Du Plessis making 78, and reached stumps on 33 for 2.
On day two South Africa seized control of the match and never let go. Dale Steyn, who had been a little quiet in the series up until then, bowled brilliantly to capture 4 for 40 and Robin Peterson picked up three wickets with his left-arm spin as Australia slumped to 163 all out.
Then, sticking the knife in, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla spurred South Africa to 230 for 2 by stumps, with Smith out for 84 and Amla on 99 not out.
632 needed to win
Taking the game to the Aussies, the Proteas went on to tally 569 all out for a lead of 631 runs. Man of the match Amla was out for a brilliant 196, while AB de Villiers found his form with a superb knock of 169.
Australia made it to stumps on 40 without loss, but on day four limped to 235 for 9 before a last wicket partnership of 87 between Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon took them to 322 all out.
South Africa won the match by 309 runs and with it the series. The ICC Mace remained in the Proteas' hands. A stirring win had brought the curtain down on a wonderful year for the South African national team.
'An incredible year'
On his return from Australia, ProteasÂ’ coach Gary Kirsten told the media: "It's been an incredible year. We set our sights on becoming the number one team in the world and then to hold that position."
Kirsten said the side wanted to leave a legacy and added that it was "a very special occasion for the Proteas and South African cricket, and should not be taken lightly".
The outstanding form of the team had earlier been captured in the announcement of the ICC Test Team of the Year in August.
Test Team of the Year
Dale Steyn cracked the nod for a remarkable fifth year in succession. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were named for a third time in a row, while Vernon Philander, after an incredible start to his test career, was also selected.
AB de Villiers was named the twelfth man. Only England, with three players, also had more than a single player in the side.
Had there been a coach selected, there can be little doubt that Gary Kirsten would have cracked the nod. The former ProteasÂ’ opening batsman, the first man to score a test century against every other test playing nation, changed the fortunes of India in his time in charge there, and now he has lifted South Africa to number one in the world. Quietly spoken, he operates out of the limelight, but his winning influence is clear for all to see.
In modern times no bowler has made such an amazing impact so quickly at test level as Vernon Philander. One has to go back to the 19th century to find the only player to have reached 50 wickets faster than Philander.
After capturing 51 wickets in just seven tests, he was named the South African Cricketer of the Year at the South African Cricket Awards in June.
Included in those wickets was 5 for 15 last November when South Africa bowled Australia out for only 47 in Cape Town, 10 for 102 against Sri Lanka in Centurion, 10 for 114 versus New Zealand in Hamilton, and 61 and 35, as well as 2 for 28 and 5 for 30 in the series-clinching victory at Lords.
After 147 tests, Mark Boucher's excellent career was brought to a premature end just before the Proteas' series against England by a freak eye injury caused by a bail.
During the course of his career, he was responsible for exactly 1 000 dismissals. His 555 test dismissals is a massive 139 more than the number two man on the list, Adam Gilchrist, and with 424 dismissals in one-day internationals, he is number two on the all-time list.
After the one-day international series away to New Zealand, Lonwabo Tsotsobe rose to number one in the ODI bowling rankings. "I am not one for numbers, but I do put in a lot of hard work, and it is always special when you receive recognition," Tsotsobe told Cricket South Africa.
The one disappointment during the year was the failure of the team to fire at the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. In the players' defence, the tournament came directly after their tour of England, with the team having to travel straight to the island for the competition. Neither defending champions England nor South Africa found their best form as the West Indies claimed the title.
In October, South Africa blasted their way to the Hong Kong Sixes title, winning the final by a convincing 37 runs over defending champions Pakistan. Captain Colin Ingram made an astonishing 34 not out off of only six balls.
In a survey by The Cricketer magazine, Newlands was voted the number two cricket ground in the world, behind only Lords.
"This is an important endorsement of a place that has special meaning for both Capetonians and South African cricket," Western Province Cricket Association CEO Andre Odendaal said in a statement, "and weÂ’re proud to have maintained our high ratings in world cricket."
South Africa hosted the Champions League Twenty20 in October, a competition featuring the top franchise cricket teams from around the world. The Titans and Highveld Lions made it to the semi-final and final respectively, but both lost to the Sydney Sixers, who claimed the title for a first time.
On the domestic scene, the Titans ruled the roost, claiming the four-day Sunfoil Series and the MiWay T20 Challenge titles. The Cape Cobras lifted the Momentum One-day Cup.
There was also more success for South African on the administrative front when former Proteas' wicketkeeper Dave Richardson was appointed CEO of the International Cricket Council in mid-year.
The Proteas celebrate their 2-0 series win over England in September 2012 with the ICC Mace, which is given to the number one ranked test cricket team in the world (Photo: Cricket South Africa)
Hashim Amla made 150 against England in the second one-day international at The Rose Bowl, Southampton, on 28 August 2012 - his highest score in ODIs (Photo: Cricket South Africa)
Proteas' fast bowler Vernon Philander celebrates taking another wicket (Photo: Cricket South Africa on Facebook)
Jacques Kallis celebrates one of his four wickets against Zimbabwe in a man of the match-winning return of 4 for 15 in the ICC World Twenty20, Sri Lanka, 20 September 2012 (Photo: Cricket South Africa)