Cape Town – Winning bilateral series, and ding-dong individual matches, is starting to become healthily habitual for South Africa in both forms of limited-overs cricket at present.
It is an especially promising characteristic considering that the great majority of their players represent the country across the dual formats, and are fairly close to setting off for a crack at the ICC World Twenty20 event in India, a tournament which – like the World Cup – they have not yet won.
The Proteas are also showing an improved ability to pull games out of the fire after getting into some peril at advanced stages, with all-rounder Chris Morris, still a relative newcomer to their regular plans, developing into an “anti-freeze” device, if you like, of heartening substance.
Morris has his lingering imperfections but during the current, multi-format summer against England has always shown an ability to bounce back when things aren’t going his way ... not to mention a remarkably unflustered temperament when the going gets tense.
It may be a while before he can be branded with conviction anything like a new Lance Klusener as a clinical lower-order finisher at the crease, but his body language was calm, composed and even smilingly relaxed – possibly to the point of unnerving fumbling England toward the finish? – as he single-handedly swayed a second nail-biter in the space of a week the host nation’s way.
The 28-year-old had made a major name for himself with that whirlwind innings of 62 off 38 balls in the second-last ODI at the Wanderers last Friday, and followed that up this Friday by smashing 14 of the challenging 15 runs required in the last over to win the first KFC T20 international before a near-20,000 crowd at Newlands here.
Captain Faf du Plessis was correct in saying they had received a “massive get-out-of-jail card” on the damp but fortunately rain-free night, but at the same time getting off the hook at the point of seemingly imminent defeat is every bit as gladdening a hallmark to bank as winning a game with better comfort.
Increasingly cleansed of the “choker” tag that has stalked South Africa for many years, the current crop of players are not only learning to win limited-overs fixtures with decent regularity, but also do so from the point when smart money suggests the opponents are on the point of shading them.
Of course the despised label may only be considered obsolete in the minds of more cynical and demanding Proteas supporters when they finally land one of those elusive major ICC trophies again, but they may just be inching in the correct direction mentally.
Also to bear in mind is that the English tourists perhaps have themselves largely to blame for first frittering away the ODI series 3-2 from a 2-0 advantage, and then also botching the closing minutes of the first T20 encounter; there is a case for saying some of their players may unavoidably have a foot on the plane as the safari draws toward its energy-sapping close.
Nevertheless, their undoubtedly promising, largely on-the-up squad have now been beaten four times in as many one-day clashes with the Proteas, if you include the three finishing fixtures to the ODI series.
Whatever happens in the T20 finale at the Wanderers on Sunday (14:30 start), South Africa cannot lose the mini-series, so they will be stretching to four their sequence of series in which – win or share -- this has been the case in the format.
Ahead of the Bullring meeting – it is a venue where the Proteas have won three of their last four T20s – they have clinched seven victories from eight matches.
It is just about as productive a run as when they won six matches out of six in a period between 2010 and 2011, featuring two each against West Indies, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
There is clearly more right than wrong about the Proteas’ limited-overs play at present, given that they have also clinched each of their last three ODI series – against a trio of tough opponents in New Zealand, India and England.
The visitors are understandably trying to see positives from their latest reverse on SA soil, captain Eoin Morgan saying that so nearly defending a modest 134 at Newlands was a “huge plus”.
Conditions should be appreciably different at the traditionally batting-friendly Wanderers, with the recently labouring Morgan himself taking heart from the fact that he scored an unbeaten 85 in the last bilateral T20 encounter there in 2009, when England won by one run on the Duckworth/Lewis method after rain wrecked an exciting climax.
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