Graeme Smith salutes best South Africa team he has played in

CAPE TOWN Mon Feb 25, 2013 6:43pm IST

South African captain Graeme Smith (L) celebrates with Dean Elgar after Elgar took a catch to dismiss Pakistan's Sarfraz Ahmed (unseen) during the third day of the third test cricket match in Pretoria, February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee

South African captain Graeme Smith (L) celebrates with Dean Elgar after Elgar took a catch to dismiss Pakistan's Sarfraz Ahmed (unseen) during the third day of the third test cricket match in Pretoria, February 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ihsaan Haffejee

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Graeme Smith has been representing South Africa since 2002 and the test captain believes the current crop of players are the finest of his generation.

Smith's side have a commanding lead at the top of the world rankings after completing a 3-0 test whitewash of Pakistan on Sunday.

"This is the best team I have played in as a South African cricketer, we have all our bases covered," the skipper told reporters.

"Part of that is the maturity and professionalism with which they approach every match and the pride they put into their performances."

South Africa have won in England, Australia and New Zealand in recent times and beaten Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand but Smith's hunger has not yet been satisfied.

"There is still more I want to achieve with this side," said the opening batsman who averages 48.62 in 110 test appearances. "We want to create a team that plays the game hard but in the right spirit.

"What has been most pleasing about this summer is how clinical we have been, we have never let our intensity drop. That is how we set out to play our cricket."

Of the regular test line-up, only Jacques Kallis (37), Smith (32) and Alviro Petersen (32) are in their 30s.

Coach Gary Kirsten has urged all-rounder Kallis to give up the shorter formats of the game in order to prolong his test career and that looks likely to happen.

The strength of the first-class domestic competition has helped fuel success for the test side.

When injuries have robbed South Africa of Kallis, Morne Morke, JP Duminy and Vernon Philander, their replacements have excelled.

The latest is Kyle Abbott who returned match figures of nine for 68 on his debut in the victory by an innings and 18 runs over Pakistan in the third test.

"I think the domestic circuit at the moment is the strongest it has been," said the 25-year-old paceman. "It is credit to the South African system.

"The high performance centre is fantastic and the South African A side has been running really well for the last two or three years. By the time guys reach test level they are ready."

The next challenge for the test team is a two-match series against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in November.

"Preparation for Abu Dhabi will be key," Smith said. "You cannot keep guys at the top of their game for eight months when they are not playing test cricket so it will be about how we approach the build-up to the series."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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