Proteas showing renewed energy

2016-10-02 21:07
Faf du Plessis and Steve Smith (Gallo)

Cape Town – South Africa, a little against the expectations of more pessimistic sorts, have made a rousing, purposeful start to their home season in both most established formats.

When the Proteas returned in late June from their winter ODI triangular with West Indies and Australia in the Caribbean – as the side not to qualify for the final -- doubters understandably saw it as an extension of their problems in the lean 2015/16 summer which had included successive Test series defeats to India and England and another dud showing at an ICC World Twenty20.

But the new campaign has got off contrastingly memorably.

With Faf du Plessis a particularly central figure as stand-in captain for injured AB de Villiers, they first clinched the short five-day series against New Zealand in August with a thumping 204-run triumph at Centurion, then used their ODI “tune-up” against second-tier Ireland to show little mercy in a 206-run rout.

Even more pleasingly from a South African perspective, the first two of five ODIs against arch-rivals Australia have produced wide-margin victories almost beyond wildest dreams – by six wickets with 82 deliveries to spare at SuperSport Park and now Sunday’s 142-run outcome at the Wanderers.

“Australia have been comprehensively outplayed in each game … it’s been a serious shellacking,” magnanimously admitted visiting SuperSport commentator and former Aussie captain Allan Border.

It is the first time since April 2009 that the Proteas have managed successive wins in ODI series – either bilateral or sometimes triangular -- against Australia, even if on the prior occasion it actually ended up three on the trot.

They were the middle trio of fixtures (Centurion, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth) in a similarly five-game duel during the lengthy tenure of Graeme Smith as national skipper, which SA eventually clinched 3-2.

The present series against the No 1-ranked side in the world can now be sealed as early as Wednesday, thus emulating that sequence of seven years ago, if the Proteas prevail again at Kingsmead (13:30).

In Australia’s favour, as they nurse their considerable Highveld mental wounds, is that the combat shifts entirely to coastal venues for the remainder.

As Kepler Wessels said after the dust had settled on the Bullring, where the rather one-paced, limited-skilled and all right-arm Aussie seam arsenal took another embarrassing pounding: “Their bowlers perhaps won’t be as vulnerable at the coast; the ball won’t come onto the bat as readily.”

Another form of solace for Steve Smith’s troops is that Australia sport a very decent record in Durban – they have won the last four one-day international meetings there, with the Proteas’ last triumph coming in April 2000.

That was when Shaun Pollock had first taken charge at desperately short notice – a day after full confirmation broke of the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal.

The Aussies lead 5-2 overall in ODI victories between the two nations at Kingsmead, but a fairly dramatic shift in momentum may be required if they are prosper on Wednesday.

Although the tourists have left behind from this venture – probably increasingly ruefully? – several more highly-touted fast bowlers, the Proteas have imposed these two drubbings minus a few stalwarts of their own, like their two traditional batting kingpins De Villiers and Hashim Amla, and the injured beanpole quickie Morne Morkel.

Amla, ranked third among ODI batsmen on the global ladder, was a controversial omission from the Wanderers despite the revelation before the start that he was restored to health after a virus saw him sit out the Centurion opener.

It still seems a pretty daft move, frankly, despite any feeling of vindication the brains trust may feel about not tampering with their winning line-up from Friday for the swift follow-up.

Nevertheless, it must also be considered a significant tick in a box that the Proteas could win so powerfully again without the services of both ageing, long-time maestros of the crease.

There is plenty yet to achieve this season before the country can feel the national team is genuinely on the up once more, but the glimpses of the future – not to mention current levels of professionalism and hunger – have been stimulating and appealing to supporters’ eyes …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cricket

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