Whisper it, but do these Proteas have ... cojones?

2019-01-31 06:11
Rassie van der Dussen (Gallo)
Rassie van der Dussen (Gallo)

Cape Town - Imperfections? Boy, they remain plain to see.

There’s strategic and some selection-based sorting still to do that is not dissimilar to the challenge of creating pairs in a hurry from a deep, motley basket of well-used dark grey and black socks.

But there is at least some - and it’s mounting - solid evidence that the current South African one-day international team are made of agreeably stout stuff when it comes to temperament.

Yes, that word. It hasn’t exactly been a strong point at World Cups, where the country sports an unfortunate history of failing to even make the final in seven attempts; you hardly need reminding that a general saga of madcap moments, panic and ill-judgement at key times comes to mind in explanation of SA’s hoodoo on the biggest stage.

Of course there is no substitute for proving it at CWC itself (another looms ever-larger in England in late May), but at the same time a pleasing pattern is developing of the present nucleus of the squad demonstrating mettle at times when it matters most – and perhaps you have to be unbendingly cynical to scoff at it.

Latest case in point was Wednesday’s crushing, committed, series-deciding victory by seven wickets with a full 10 overs to spare over Pakistan in the fifth and final ODI at Newlands.

It represented a major, perfectly-timed turnaround from the bumbling display by the hosts on Pink Day at the Wanderers just three days earlier.

The Proteas, though, arguably saved their best in the series for last … a phenomenon that is becoming genuinely habitual.

This was the sixth time in a row, in bilateral-series circumstances, where they have secured the trophy from a situation where the last fixture has been an effective final; thus with at least some, associated extra pressures.

Interestingly, too, the trend has taken root entirely in the period since the last World Cup, in 2015, when South Africa were again gut-wrenching, beaten semi-finalists in Australasia.

The hallmark isn’t the worst beacon to cling to, considering that the Proteas continue in broad terms to fall short of looking like frontline CWC 2019 contenders, and will know it deep down.

It does, at least, offer up some positive level of suggestion that Faf du Plessis and company, assuming they are in the running for a last-four spot near the end of the round robin-formatted tournament this year, will play suitably urgent, rational cricket when it is most needed.

While vexing questions remain, related to both team balance and quality in varying berths, the mere fact that South Africa have seen off (3-2) a Pakistani side who hold the last significant ICC white-ball silverware on offer, the 2017 Champions Trophy, is enough to tell you that they are at least a vehicle with an engine running, rather than one stripped and rusting on a pile in a scrapyard.

Some might say there are contradictions in his words, but Du Plessis was probably right and right again, really, when he said immediately after the Newlands result was secured that “a few places (for CWC) are still up for grabs” but also that “there is definitely more clarity after this series”.

While both he and especially an earlier rampaging Quinton de Kock – they boast a combined total of 230 ODI caps - were highly influential in ensuring the ease of the Proteas’ 241-run chase-down, the game probably went a whole lot closer to nailing down both of wholly less experienced top-order batsmen Reeza Hendricks and Rassie van der Dussen for plane tickets to the UK.

The last-named player, who pleasingly gambled with the last delivery of the 40th over by dancing down the track, his score on 44, and walloping a straight six to ensure an unbeaten 50 on the nose and seal the victory simultaneously, has been a revelation in his maiden ODI series.

Composed and organised, Van der Dussen ended as the second highest run-maker, his 241 at an average of 120.50 coming in only four innings, whereas the official player of the series, Pakistan’s Imam-ul-Haq, needed five knocks for his 271 at 54.20.

You got a powerful sense, considering his three half-centuries from those four opportunities to take guard, that team-mates felt the Lions-based player might just as easily have warranted the laurel instead, as there were several audible calls of “Rassie, Rassie” in their celebratory midst for him to come to the fore and hold the series trophy at the team photo opportunity.

Hendricks, meanwhile, may have been slightly less prolific (169 series runs at 42.25) but certain special qualities came to the fore again as he breezed to 34 on Wednesday and posted 61 runs for the second wicket with De Kock to ease any home-supporter butterflies about what some commentators initially felt might be a moderately taxing target requirement.

As Shaun Pollock said of him in the SuperSport booth: “He plays classy shots (when on song) ... there’s nothing agricultural about them.”

The Proteas’ bowling display - superior to their patchy fielding, it must be said – was collectively both street-smart and disciplined for the most part, with two all-rounders competing spiritedly for regular spots, Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius, both rising to the occasion and helping aggravate one of those “pleasant problems” in selection.

They are quite different beasts in playing style, but maybe that’s also no bad thing?

*The Proteas now go into ODI-level recess until the five-match series against Sri Lanka from early March, when we ought to see something altogether closer to - or even the Full Monty - a “shadow World Cup squad” from them.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  rob houwing  |  cricket


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