Johannesburg - AB de Villiers could not have wished for a better start to his captaincy of South Africa’s limited-overs team as the Proteas secured a one-day series win by beating Sri Lanka in the third Sunfoil one-day international (ODI) in Bloemfontein.
De Villiers’s men now hold an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series - making the two remaining fixtures, in Kimberley on Friday and the Wanderers in Johannesburg, of little more than academic value.
The Proteas held on to claim a narrow four-run win in Bloemfontein on the Duckworth/Lewis method but it would be churlish and unfair to say that the home team would have gone on to win the game if their innings had gone the full 50 overs instead of the 34 that were bowled before rain intervened.
South Africa, in reply to Sri Lanka’s 266 for nine, had reached 179 for five before rain intervened, comfortably up with the run-rate but with the last two recognised batsmen at the crease in De Villiers and Albie Morkel while Sri Lanka spearhead Lasith Malinga had five overs up his sleeve.
The Proteas’ win was down to the flexibility shown by team management, not always a term that is associated with the South Africa cricket team.
The decision to promote Faf du Plessis to four in the batting order proved to be a masterstroke as the 27-year-old contributed a career-best 72 off 74 balls to keep his team in the match after they had sunk to 52 for three.
There have been a number of positives to come out of the series for the Proteas, not least of which has been the decision to rotate De Villiers, JP Duminy and Du Plessis at number four.
In the first match De Villiers scored 52 while Duminy crafted a match-winning 66 not out in the second game with both men showing that they are capable of batting in the pivotal number four slot.
Du Plessis showed that he is also up to the task and the way that he kept his head and guided his team out of trouble in the decisive third match showed the growing maturity among South Africa’s less-experienced players.
It is worth bearing in mind that the victory in Bloemfontein was achieved without Hashim Amla, the top-ranked ODI batsman in the world, and Jacques Kallis, South Africa’s most successful batsman.
There were also positives in the bowling attack. Morne Morkel has looked a different bowler after his travails in the test arena this season, as his eight wickets at an average of 14.25 shows, while Lonwabo Tsotsobe has demonstrated once again that he is a real force in the limited-overs game.
The 27-year-old from the Eastern Cape has captured six wickets at less than four runs an over during the series.
There have been one or two negatives for the hosts. Graeme Smith’s wretched run in ODIs continued and the burly left-hander now averages just 27.6 in his last 24 ODI innings with his last century coming in 2009.
Smith is palpably out of form but even the greatest of players go through a period of not scoring and Smith is too good a player simply to be discarded. The former skipper is a fighter and he will find form.
It is a view shared by De Villiers who said after the second match of the series: “Graeme is a huge factor in our team. He is not scoring 1 000 runs in every game at the moment but he will be back soon.”