Series win: Proteas’ shape now set in stone?

Cape Town – That’s it, then … South Africa have probably all but confirmed their team’s desired structural makeup for the World Cup in just over six months.

The happy outcome on Sunday of a 2-1 one-day international series triumph in Australia will be deemed suitable ammunition by the Proteas’ brains trust – even with home challenges against Pakistan and Sri Lanka still to come – to run with it for the foreseeable future.

And for all its obvious, ongoing flaws in terms of balance between batting and bowling resources, it will be fairly hard to quibble about.

The Aussies may be an outfit in the midst of pronounced transition, introspection and boardroom-level upheaval, but any series victory on their soil remains a highly satisfying, statement-making one.

South Africa can indisputably be said to have a broad, present stranglehold of the time-honoured bilateral rivalry, as it now embraces mastery of each of the last series, home and away, in both the Test and ODI formats – a statistical first for them.

This latest series win in the 50-overs arena is a follow-up to the 5-0 sweep on our soil two seasons back, while the Proteas clinched the 2017/18 home Test series 3-1 and the 2016/17 one Down Under by a 2-1 margin.

But it is the ODI environment that is increasingly front of mind for Faf du Plessis and company, considering the World Cup in England from late May and SA’s eighth stab at that elusive silverware.

For all their enduring faults, especially when it comes to batting cohesiveness and related issues of questionable depth in the order, the Proteas have now won two difficult away ODI series in a row – Australia and Sri Lanka.

I suspect those results are only going to embolden head coach Ottis Gibson and company into believing that their “risk for reward” strategy – by loading up the bowling with frontline strike-power, though at the cost of a long tail – is sustainable.

Certainly there was glowing praise even from sometimes parochial Australian pundits for the manner in which the tourists turned the screws before and then in the “death” phase of the home team’s stiff run-chase (target 321) at Hobart on Sunday, through their inspiring, three-pronged pace arsenal of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.

There were significant phases of the innings, with century-maker Shaun Marsh to the fore, when Australia seemed right in the contest on a trustworthy surface that promoted some especially crisp, savage driving and pulling.

But as has become customary over the last week or so, the Proteas speedsters had made early breakthroughs to only toughen the Aussie task, and then shown a combination of enterprise, intelligence and discipline at the back end to help tee up an eventually consummate 40-run win.

This was a rare day when veteran leg-spin ace Imran Tahir, the staple fourth element of the main bowling battery, took a bit of tap (7-0-58-0) but it didn’t matter that much because fifth element Dwaine Pretorius – current occupant of the head-scratching No 7 berth in the side -- produced a second consecutive, more than credible showing with his medium-fast fare.

Earlier, as if to remind that there are certain ongoing specialist batting holes to fill, South Africa had slipped initially (and not for the first time in recent months) to three down in their knock within 16 overs, suggesting a dangerously modest total might be posted in the decider.

But then captain Du Plessis and David Miller quite majestically revitalised the Proteas’ fortunes with the biggest ever SA partnership against those foes of 252, building up to a veritable crescendo near the finish as the ball travelled into the stands or occasionally down nearby suburban streets with withering regularity.

There were 130 runs in the final 10 overs, including 75 in the last five, as both stormed to explosive centuries: their alliance was marked, as much as anything else, by how few false strokes either played en route, and that against the pedigreed likes of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins enough of the time.

In the case of Miller, this was an eye-opening series – he was duly, officially confirmed as the player of it – and perhaps even enough to suggest that “Miller Time” may finally be able to be tweaked to “Miller’s Time” … it having arguably come to fullest potential at last, aged a wise 29.

His fifth century in the format and personal best score (138) also represented a powerful case for retaining him at No 5, where he was promoted to in the Tasmanian-hosted clash after operating at six in Perth and Adelaide.

It gave him better time to get established, while also meaning his penchant for carnage was agreeably (assuming you were South Africa-partial, of course) able to last that little bit longer …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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