Cape Town - A new level of assertiveness and responsibility from Farhaan Behardien was one of the major hallmarks of South Africa’s 2-1 one-day international series success against New Zealand, wrapped up in a modicum of style at Kingsmead on Wednesday.
Give the Proteas their due: while still a long way from a truly mean machine in the format, they produced the goods when it really mattered in the decisive third clash, almost always holding the whip hand en route to a 62-run victory.
It was a massive turnaround from a game-two pounding by eight wickets in Potchefstroom three days earlier - a reminder in itself that consistency is an elusive quality in their 50-overs game at present.
There are still some unsolved puzzles in team composition, although the side will automatically be strengthened when core absentees from this series like Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy return to duty soon.
Under the circumstances, this late-winter exercise gave opportunities for less heralded customers to stick up their hands, and perhaps the standout figure in that respect was the previously maligned Behardien.
In the period up to and then during the last World Cup, the Titans player was given a pretty generous run in the troublesome No 7 spot in the order, where the hope was that he would provide service as an all-rounder of sorts: in short, that didn’t really pan out and howls about his value to the overall cause gathered impetus.
But batting has always been his core strength, as evidenced by a decent track record at franchise level in limited-overs combat, and in this three-match scrap with the Black Caps he was elevated in every outing by one notch in the order to six.
Whether he can lay more regular claim to that role going forward remains to be seen, but he appeared to revel in the extra responsibility with the blade.
Behardien was the one Proteas batsman to emerge with proper credit in the “Potch” fiasco, adjusting best and most cerebrally to the slow strip and easily top-scoring with 70 (also an ODI career high for him) in a rank undercooked total of 204 all out.
Keep in mind that in the first match at Centurion, when South Africa had got off to a winning start, he was run out for 15 in the mad, final-over scramble for runs so that had been an unselfish sacrifice for the cause.
As if to prove his versatility after a largely patient, composed vigil at Senwes Park, “Fudge” on Wednesday took advantage of a decent platform from old hands like AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Morne van Wyk to demonstrate rather more daring, near-cavalier qualities as he spearheaded a strong finish to the last 10 overs or so of the healthy SA innings.
His body language - and only a few weeks and months ago it looked prone to some understandable self-doubt - was excellent as he oversaw the charge, not only playing with a fine sense of liberation and innovation but giving plenty of verbal assurance and crisp communication to partners at the other end.
Suddenly he looked more like a senior pro for his country ... which in many respects he is when you consider that he turns 32 in October and has made hard yards for many years domestically.
In registering a breezy 40 off 28 balls, his strike rate of 142 eclipsed even that of the more proven, global bums-on-seats figure De Villiers (strike rate 133 in a knock of 64), which usually takes a bit of doing.
Not always used to effusive amounts of sentiment in his favour from pundits when on the Proteas beat, he got plenty in Durban from the SuperSport commentators.
“It’s good to see back-to-back performances from Behardien ... this has probably been his most consistent series,” said iconic former national captain Graeme Smith.
Neil McKenzie, meanwhile, lauded some “quality, quality shots” from the Titans stalwart in the closing overs, and Eric Simons, once SA’s coach, added: “He’s really impressed me (in the series). He reads the game well and is good at pre-empting what the bowler is going to do.”
HD Ackerman felt Behardien “took complete charge” of the death overs in the Proteas’ knock.
Such laurels are reasonable unusual for the tenacious player. Here’s hoping he develops something of a liking for this welcome theme of affirmation ...
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