Proteas press on for top spot

Sydney - Momentum has been the key ingredient in the Proteas' march on history over the past two years which culminated in the back-to-back wins against Australia in Perth and Melbourne and which saw South Africa record their first series victory Down Under.

The Proteas will officially take over the mantle of the No 1 Test team if they can complete a 3-0 series whitewash with victory in Sydney next week, and Proteas vice-captain Ashwell Prince today stressed the need to maintain momentum going into the final Test at the SCG.

"This third Test is important for the rest of the summer," Prince said at a press conference in Sydney on Wednesday.

"We have to play Australia at home and to win this match would keep the momentum with us. Momentum is important and we certainly don't want to give it back to them."

Prince said South Africa were also keen to avoid losing another "dead rubber" Test.

"(In) England... we led 2-0 and we were a bit disappointing going into the fourth Test," he said. "We don't want to make the same mistakes."

Prince, a pillar of the side over the past two years in which the Proteas have not been beaten in a Test series, missed the first two Tests due to a cracked left thumb picked up on the eve of the first Test.

His absence gave JP Duminy a chance on the big stage and the 24-year-old has grabbed the opportunity with both hands, scoring the winning runs in his second-innings half-century in Perth and then hitting an epic, match-turning 166 at the MCG.

"It's been a bit weird. Obviously I would have liked to have played a part in the two matches," Prince said. "We all knew what calibre of player JP Duminy was and he didn't disappoint. All credit to him, the way he handled himself... for a young guy I think it was an outstanding performance."

Prince will give his injured thumb a test tomorrow at the first practice at the SCG.

"I'm over 50 percent, it's probably 60-40 towards me being fit, (but) whether I'm selected is another question all together," he said.

As for celebrations in the wake of the series-clinching win, Prince admitted: "The boys were very excited, we had a proper party last night."

And while the 2008 Proteas team has matured into a formidable unit with few glaring weaknesses, skipper and opening batsman Graeme Smith and fast bowler Dale Steyn have taken the individual plaudits.

The Proteas can attribute much of their success this year - 11 wins, two draws and two defeats in 15 Tests, and series wins in England and Australia - to the batting exploits of Smith and Steyn's brilliant bowling.

Smith - also a vastly improved captain from the last time South Africa toured Australia - scored 1,656 runs at an average of 72, and his tally was the third-highest in a calendar year in the history of the game, behind only the 1,788 runs Pakistan's Mohammad Yousuf amassed in 2006 and the 1,710 the legendary West Indian Viv Richards tallied in 1976.

Smith hit six Test centuries in 2008,contributing scores of 48, 108, 62 and 75 in the first two Tests against Australia. Previously he struggled against them, with only one half-century in eight Tests.

Steyn was the man of the match in the second Test at the MCG for his bowling and batting heroics, and his 10-wicket haul gave him 74 scalps for the year, at an average of 20.01.

South Africa's batting strength was underlined by the presence of Hashim Amla (fourth, 1,161 runs), Neil McKenzie (seventh, 1,071) and AB de Villiers (10th, 1,061) in the top 10 leading run-scorers. Other Proteas bowlers to shine in 2008 were Makhaya Ntini (sixth, 54 wickets) and Morne Morkel (ninth, 43 wickets).