Cape Town – South Africa, a little against the expectations
of more pessimistic sorts, have made a rousing, purposeful start to their home
season in both most established formats.
When the Proteas returned in late June from their winter ODI
triangular with West Indies and Australia in the Caribbean – as the side not to
qualify for the final -- doubters understandably saw it as an extension of
their problems in the lean 2015/16 summer which had included successive Test
series defeats to India and England and another dud showing at an ICC World
But the new campaign has got off contrastingly memorably.
With Faf du Plessis a particularly central figure as
stand-in captain for injured AB de Villiers, they first clinched the short
five-day series against New Zealand in August with a thumping 204-run triumph
at Centurion, then used their ODI “tune-up” against second-tier Ireland to show
little mercy in a 206-run rout.
Even more pleasingly from a South African perspective, the
first two of five ODIs against arch-rivals Australia have produced wide-margin
victories almost beyond wildest dreams – by six wickets with 82 deliveries to
spare at SuperSport Park and now Sunday’s 142-run outcome at the Wanderers.
“Australia have been comprehensively outplayed in each game
… it’s been a serious shellacking,” magnanimously admitted visiting SuperSport
commentator and former Aussie captain Allan Border.
It is the first time since April 2009 that the Proteas have
managed successive wins in ODI series – either bilateral or sometimes
triangular -- against Australia, even if on the prior occasion it actually ended
up three on the trot.
They were the middle trio of fixtures (Centurion, Cape Town,
Port Elizabeth) in a similarly five-game duel during the lengthy tenure of
Graeme Smith as national skipper, which SA eventually clinched 3-2.
The present series against the No 1-ranked side in the world
can now be sealed as early as Wednesday, thus emulating that sequence of seven
years ago, if the Proteas prevail again at Kingsmead (13:30).
In Australia’s favour, as they nurse their considerable
Highveld mental wounds, is that the combat shifts entirely to coastal venues
for the remainder.
As Kepler Wessels said after the dust had settled on the
Bullring, where the rather one-paced, limited-skilled and all right-arm Aussie
seam arsenal took another embarrassing pounding: “Their bowlers perhaps won’t
be as vulnerable at the coast; the ball won’t come onto the bat as readily.”
Another form of solace for Steve Smith’s troops is that
Australia sport a very decent record in Durban – they have won the last four
one-day international meetings there, with the Proteas’ last triumph coming in
That was when Shaun Pollock had first taken charge at
desperately short notice – a day after full confirmation broke of the Hansie
Cronje match-fixing scandal.
The Aussies lead 5-2 overall in ODI victories between the
two nations at Kingsmead, but a fairly dramatic shift in momentum may be required
if they are prosper on Wednesday.
Although the tourists have left behind from this venture –
probably increasingly ruefully? – several more highly-touted fast bowlers, the
Proteas have imposed these two drubbings minus a few stalwarts of their own,
like their two traditional batting kingpins De Villiers and Hashim Amla, and
the injured beanpole quickie Morne Morkel.
Amla, ranked third among ODI batsmen on the global ladder,
was a controversial omission from the Wanderers despite the revelation before
the start that he was restored to health after a virus saw him sit out the
It still seems a pretty daft move, frankly, despite any
feeling of vindication the brains trust may feel about not tampering with their
winning line-up from Friday for the swift follow-up.
Nevertheless, it must also be considered a significant tick
in a box that the Proteas could win so powerfully again without the services of
both ageing, long-time maestros of the crease.
There is plenty yet to achieve this season before the
country can feel the national team is genuinely on the up once more, but the
glimpses of the future – not to mention current levels of professionalism and
hunger – have been stimulating and appealing to supporters’ eyes …
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing