Comment: Rob Houwing
Cape Town – That top-of-the-world feeling … it’s what South Africa will bring back home with them on Saturday after their most rewarding cricket tour in history.
By comfortably beating Australia again in the final ODI in Perth on Friday, the Proteas officially assumed No 1 spot on the ICC rankings for one-day cricket.
It was the perfect way to finish a summer of almost unbridled joy and incredible achievement Down Under for the Proteas, having clinched the Test series 2-1 and now the ODIs by a brutal 4-1 margin.
Achieving the dead-rubber win by 39 runs at the WACA even with an experimental side has piled further pressure onto the dazed and bewildered Aussies, who begin a new five-match ODI series against neighbours New Zealand within 48 hours and have to try to recapture the zest and belief that will be necessary if they are to turn the tables in South Africa in a few weeks.
As things stand, that looks a fairly unlikely prospect, although so proud and well-developed a cricketing nation ought never be underestimated.
Mind you, a winning culture now wafts through the South African dressing room like an agreeable scent of lavender, and smart money must be on the Proteas also reaching the peak of the Test rankings during our early autumn.
Throughout the last few giddy weeks, the national side has fired with a markedly collective zeal, and on Friday one of the more peripheral members of the travelling squad in both codes, Lonwabo ‘Lopsy’ Tsotsobe, simply added his name to the swollen list of luminary performers.
The lanky Warriors seamer picked up four wickets on debut, including the most prized two of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, and even claimed a catch for good measure to be involved in five dismissals.
Some of the Australian commentators wrestled a bit with his name and it often came out more like ‘Top Sorbet’ … but the only one feasting on a home team-provided “dessert” was the ecstatic left-arm paceman himself.
He did concede 50 runs in his nine overs but showed excellent temperament in mid-spell when, even during a 19-run pummelling in one particular over, he sent down a bamboozling slower ball which crucially accounted for the threatening Hussey (78 off 96 deliveries).
Tsotsobe had also angled a few balls very promisingly past Ponting’s bat, before inducing him to wretchedly mis-time a pull and be caught by a running wicketkeeper AB de Villiers, and showed decent gas at times, too, touching the 145km/h mark.
The other rookie, Wayne Parnell, stuck to his task pluckily and 10-0-52-1 on ODI debut before 18 000 people on the WACA belter was a decent enough return as South African cricket threatens to muster an embarrassment of riches in all departments and formats.
Again, captain Johan Botha led classically from the front, aiding the Proteas’ charge to 288 for six -- after unusually batting first -- with some cheeky strokeplay improvisation at the death.
Then, as we have come to expect of him, he played a big part in choking the Aussie run-flow in the middle overs. Botha went for fewer than 40 runs in his 10 overs, another supreme effort.
An interesting little statistic going into this match was that Botha had become the fourth highest wicket-taker (19) in ODIs in the world since January last year in terms of dismissals secured between overs 15 and 40 of games.
All above him (Messrs Mendis, Muralitharan and Afridi) are, significantly, spinners too – and all of them have played several more matches in the period than he has.
He might well have been made player of the series, but instead Albie Morkel pipped him to that honour for his Herculean hitting feats in several of the contests.
Morkel hurt his hip and thigh in a horrible outfield collision with rather luckless Vaughn van Jaarsveld and will hobble onto the flight home; perhaps the only cricket person in South Africa not smiling after the Perth game would have been his franchise coach Richard Pybus, hoping to reintroduce this trump-card to their Standard Bank Pro20 campaign as quickly as possible.
Hashim Amla, similarly, must have narrowly beaten Tsotsobe to player of the match at the WACA, but the award was a fitting one for a player unlucky to fall three runs short of a second ODI century and first in Australia.
Amla has got better and better in the one-day arena and his 97 off 117 balls, coming so soon after 80 not out at Adelaide, means he now averages 51 after 15 ODIs.
JP Duminy grasped a last opportunity for a flourish on Aussie turf, showing that even if Morkel, rarely, isn’t going to cash in on the batting powerplay, he certainly can too – his electric unbeaten 60 came off 42 deliveries at a gun-smoking strike rate of 142.
The Aussie bowling? Well, when even the parsimonious Nathan Bracken goes for 70 in 10 overs, you sense there’s not a whole lot of lustre left in it for the time being.
This Proteas team, well nigh to a man, truly deserves to be besieged by well-wishers at OR Tambo on Saturday evening …