Cape Town – The Proteas will, virtually
needless to say, still have the oppressive matter of that major-tournament jinx
hanging over them when they compete in the next ICC World Twenty20 tournament
in India in March.
But some seven months out from it, they
look pretty near to nailing down the stable, correct batting personnel to
potentially be among the best contenders on the willow-friendly Subcontinent.
South Africa played some really admirable
cricket for the last 75 percent or thereabouts of the first T20 international
against New Zealand at Kingsmead on Friday, winning by six wickets with 13
balls to spare - which devotees of the format will know is an even more
comprehensive margin than it may seem on paper.
It was also the Proteas’ third wide-margin
T20 triumph in a row in the space of a few weeks after they had clinched the
away Bangladeshi series 2-0 in July.
Their only real hiccup was in the initial
stages of the Black Caps’ innings - after the tourists had been sent in by
acting captain AB de Villiers - when they leaked 56 runs without a scalp in
the six-over powerplay, and then the 100 ominously appeared on the board for
the loss of only one wicket after 12 overs.
It seemed at that point that a dangerous NZ
total of 180-plus was possible ... but it was also roughly the time that South
Africa pulled themselves together at a rate of knots and then never
significantly relaxed the pressure for the rest of the contest.
The New Zealanders were eventually
curtailed to 151 for eight, with left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso and wily
medium-pacer David Wiese applying mid-innings brakes with commendable force and
skill, which also seemed to fire up SA’s initially suffering main seamers to
finish light years better than they started.
The Proteas’ chase of a much more moderate
target than was once on the cards seldom, frankly, looked a fussed one, and two
major developments went a long way to ensuring that happy phenomenon.
One was the restoration of Hashim Amla not
only to the T20 team for the first time in well over a year, but also the front
of the order.
It made such sense to coax him back to
service in this format, given the stability and calmness he automatically
provides, but also because his style of accumulation should be so important in
Indian conditions when the world event comes around at season’s end.
Rotating the strike with ease to allow more
explosive hitters around him every chance to prosper, Amla shared 50
partnerships with both De Villiers and Rilee Rossouw: he had lovely patches of
extravagance himself every now and then, but generally speaking was prepared to
be the unglamorous yet ultra-trusty anchor.
He would have been slightly irked to
succumb to an inelegant, lofted heave just two runs short of a personal
half-century and with victory only five runs away - it meant he has still (and
unusually) not passed 50 since May 29 when he got to that landmark for
Derbyshire against Lancashire. But he nevertheless looked strongly as though
his appetite for crease-hogging is returning.
As for De Villiers, commentator and former
SA captain Kepler Wessels was among those celebrating his deployment at No 3 on
This A-lister of global strokeplay has been
tried in every berth in the top six for the Proteas at T20 level, where a
little unfathomably his record (average 22.54, top effort from 60 games still
just 79 not out) remains so notably inferior to his stellar Test and ODI stats.
But if first-drop seems increasingly the
right slot for him, he only advanced his case at Kingsmead where he romped to
33 off 21 deliveries to ensure there would be relatively little run-rate
pressure at the back end of the chase.
As for the left-handed Rossouw at No 4, he
actually eclipsed De Villiers for blistering strike rate as he almost
nonchalantly smashed 38 off 20 balls.
The tall Free Stater, on a good day -
pleasingly rather more often now - is fast becoming one of the best
limited-overs “musclers” of a cricket ball you will see anywhere.
Much has been made of the Black Caps
arriving for this early-spring tour with a depleted squad, but remember that
the Proteas missed some blue-chip names at Kingsmead too, including in Du
Plessis (a late withdrawal with a knee problem) and JP Duminy two batting
regulars in the T20 environment when available.
Looking ahead to that next global T20 tournament,
it looks increasingly likely that outsiders - though Quinton de Kock is nicely
on the rebound - may struggle to break into a top seven comprising such
surnames, not necessarily in this exact order, as Amla, Rossouw, De Villiers,
Du Plessis, Miller, Duminy and Wiese.
Unless someone suffers a hideous slump, I
believe the Proteas ought to run with these guys as the batting fulcrum for the
next few months, in a quest to establish continuity and build confidence. They
should see further palatable fruits along the way in doing so ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing