Pakistan v SA

Proteas have gained from pain

2013-11-12 07:46
AB de Villiers (AFP)
Cape Town - Call it the equivalent of a six-goal swing over the course of a two-leg soccer tussle, if you like.

South Africa, finally seeing some genuine light at the end of a pretty extended one-day international tunnel, have put aside the trauma of losing 4-1 away to another Subcontinent power, Sri Lanka, by achieving flip-over victory by that score-line in the follow-up series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates only three months later.

They completed the demolition job, which included three forceful triumphs on the trot at the back end of the series, in Sharjah on Monday - and fittingly by the biggest margin either team had managed over the course of the five clashes, despite the dead-rubber status.

Perhaps that was what made the often ruthless wrap-up of the spoils especially pleasing: it did seem to bear out the bullish words of captain AB de Villiers, who personally led the near-rout with a blistering unbeaten century and later insisted: “This team is really gelling as a unit ... it’s a helluva effort to win 4-1 here.”

It is suddenly a good space for the Proteas to be in, after some two years of uncertainty and just as often despondency about their 50-overs capabilities and staffing.

They will stay in mid-table on the ICC rankings just for the moment, but have gained healthy ground on all four teams who were above them before this series.

Although the very same Pakistan, after two Twenty20 internationals still remaining in Dubai, now pay a swift return trip to South Africa - not something they’ll be relishing as the Proteas lick their lips over infinitely preferable home conditions - De Villiers and company have reason at last to believe they might be capable of knocking over defending World Cup champions and still No 1-ranked India in a more heavyweight ODI tussle shortly afterwards.

The dramatic nature of the turnaround by South Africa has probably not been matched in bilateral series terms since 2004/05, when they put aside the embarrassment of being thumped 5-0 in Sri Lanka in the middle of 2004 by roasting the touring England 4-1.

It also seems as if the Proteas are slowly but discernibly reaping the benefits of not adopting a panicked reaction to the many setbacks of the last two years.

By and large, they have stuck with the personnel who went through the topsy-turvy times - including losing 2-1 at home to New Zealand last summer and later the Lankan fiasco - and those players might be described now as strong-pulse examples of the “no pain, no gain” principle.

South Africa’s last really convincing ODI series win came in New Zealand in the 2011/12 season (a 3-0 sweep), and it is instructive, I think, to chew on the fact that since then only Albie Morkel and Johan Botha (now Australia-based) of that squad have seemingly permanently fallen by the wayside.

Most of the other personnel - and with some notable subsequent additions like the now regular and thoroughly revitalised all-rounder Ryan McLaren - bit the bullet through hard times and have emerged the better for the experience.

There is awesome, abundant competition now for bowling places (the Proteas won effortlessly on Monday even while resting Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel from the lower-stakes match), albeit that some of the batting slots still do not look emphatically nailed down - Faf du Plessis continues just not to score heavily enough to justify a place as a top-fiver, and the best has not yet been consistently seen from David Miller in the middle order.

Generally, though, the jigsaw is coming together quite nicely and perhaps even the likes of Du Plessis and Miller will shortly catch the “positive” bug that has infected various others in the squad and produce the kind of personal statistics more desired and required of them.

De Villiers is clearly revelling in his captaincy capacity after some trying times of his own: “I’m in a good space as captain; I feel I’ve really got the backing of the boys.”

His century in the final ODI in Sharjah, on a particularly challenging, patience-testing surface, was his 15th in the format and first after 15 prior knocks without one - he began like Boycott, if you like, and ended in rather more of a Dhoni- or Gayle-like (heck, why not just say De Villliers?) crescendo of thrilling boundaries.

Speaking of other batting luminaries, the 29-year-old went past the 6000-run mark in ODIs during the course of his vigil, making him joint second-fastest to the landmark (147 knocks, with India’s Sourav Ganguly) and behind only the legendary “Master Blaster” from the West Indies, Viv Richards (141).

De Villiers seems like a man with a great weight coming off his shoulders in several respects ... it could spell bad news for Pakistan, for a bit longer, and then India.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  pakistan v sa  |  cricket

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