Pretoria - It’s early days yet, but the Proteas’ six-wicket ambush of Australia at Centurion on Friday night gave a glimpse of the South African side’s future.
Forget that it was Australia (albeit an understrength Australia) and forget that 295 to win was chased down with 13.4 overs to spare.
The emphatic win gave answers to tricky questions, like who takes over the run-scoring mantle if both Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers are missing and what happens when Kagiso Rabada dares not to be perfect for an outing.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock, who is laid-back off the field but positively riotous on it, answered the first query by recording South Africa’s second highest one-day international score (178 off 113 balls), while all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo piped up with bowling figures of 4/44 off his 10 overs in only his second game for the Proteas.
With De Villiers missing through injury and Amla having failed to recover from the flu in time, the 23-year-old De Kock took the opportunity to put his hand up as possibly the new go-to man for the Proteas with a savage knock, which included 16 boundaries and 11 sixes.
As always, the man child (he can’t shake looking 16 even though he recently got married) typically steered clear of over-analysing what Australian captain Steve Smith called “one hell of an innings”.
“It was the most free knock I’ve played,” De Kock said. “But I’ve played a couple of other knocks I’ve enjoyed, where I’ve had to work hard for the runs – those are the knocks I enjoy. Today (on Friday) was just ... I don’t know, it was just my day I guess.”
On whether not having De Villiers and Amla had put pressure on the remaining batsmen, De Kock wasn’t so sure: “No, I think the guys are confident that they can also take games away [from the opposition] – they have their own ways of doing it and they’ve also done it. Obviously, AB and Hash make it look easier than other guys.”
Going into the game, Phehlukwayo (20) had his own questions to answer from a South African public that didn’t believe he was ready for international cricket. This is after age group cricket for the country, two years of first-class cricket – which included being the Dolphins’ death bowler last season – and doing well for the South African A-side.
After an uneventful debut against Ireland last Sunday, he was in the thick of things and took the catch off Wayne Parnell’s bowling that halted the momentum built by Aussie openers David Warner and Aaron Finch.
With Dale Steyn and Rabada not having opened the bowling all that well, it was up to him to help stem the flow of runs by taking wickets. Hitting the seam from wicket to wicket just back of a length, he came back from a first over that went for 16 runs to record his best figures.
A solidly built man, Phehlukwayo has two things about him: whenever he has the ball, it feels like things are bound to happen and although the speed gun says he bowls in the low to mid-130km/h, he seems to give batsmen the hurry up.
More important was the identity of his victims after a chastening start.
Instead of being cowed by that first over, he claimed the wickets of Finch, who was warming to his task, a relaxed-looking Smith and the belligerent Mitchell Marsh, before snuffing out the visitors’ comeback by removing the pesky John Hastings.
By the looks of it, the fight doesn’t scare him and it doesn’t seem to matter who he’s fighting.
For all that, today’s (on Sunday) second game against the Aussies, at the Wanderers, doesn’t necessarily have to take its lead from Centurion. For starters, the visitors will be first to admit, after the flying start they had, that the least they could have done was reach 300 (Smith said afterwards it was a “370/380 wicket”).
A sign of how they, too, were rollicking along is how they were on 199 after 30 overs. But the six wickets they’d lost told a story of a side who found a good batting deck and lost their wickets playing like millionaires.
Also, you’d have to go far and wide to find the kind of generous bowling they offered, rookie or otherwise. That said, the new Proteas are beginning to take shape.