Proteas can twist knife on Aussies in Potch

Janneman Malan (Gallo Images)
Janneman Malan (Gallo Images)

Australia have never clean-swept South Africa in a bilateral one-day international series ... the current, hearteningly re-emerging Proteas are on the brink of achieving the feat for a second time.

It will, simultaneously, be the second successive whitewash of the Aussies specifically on our soil if Quinton de Kock’s troops finish strongly for a 3-0 outcome in the Potchefstroom dead-rubber clash on Saturday (10:00).

When they were last here in 2016/17, with Faf du Plessis and Steve Smith the respective leaders, the tourists were thumped 5-0 in a longer series.

On that occasion, however, they arrived with their premier batting line-up but notably minus the three or four most pivotal elements of their first-choice pace attack 3- and their experimental, second-stringers in that department took quite a pasting.

In many ways, then, the Proteas' latest series conquest (and their overdue first, standalone trophy hoist of the home summer) is more satisfying than that one three seasons ago, as they have almost indisputably played Australia’s top personnel.

Whether or not they achieve the sweep, South Africa are already assured now - courtesy of Wednesday’s polished victory in Bloemfontein - of three ODI series wins in a row against the old enemy, considering that it is a follow-up to triumphs in 2018/19 (away, 2-1) and 2016/17 (home, 5-0).

It is also the second time the Proteas have earned a “hat-trick” of ODI series wins against Australia: they last pulled it off in a period between 2005/06 (home) and 2008/09, when they prevailed both away and home.

The Australians, again, cannot boast that achievement yet, stretching back to when the foes first locked horns in this format at the 1991/92 World Cup.

In certain respects, it might have been better for the Proteas to have won the Twenty20 portion of the present bilateral combat, immediately before the ODIs, given the looming T20 World Cup on Aussie turf in October ... instead South Africa were pipped 2-1.

Then again, the 50-overs arena is closer to more "classical", less lottery-like, cricket: this outcome is immensely satisfying for the Proteas’ white-ball cause as a whole, as head coach Mark Boucher and company painstakingly pick up the pieces after a deeply problematic period across the international formats.

That South Africa registered highly impressive, unbeaten back-to-back centuries from relative newcomers Heinrich Klaasen (123 at Paarl) and Janneman Malan (129 at Bloemfontein) represented a possibly seminal few days in their development, including the overall way, each time, they turned the screws on their opponents for convincing wins.

Just ahead of the start of the series, remember, there had been a rightful feeling that it was more or less “De Kock or bust” for the Proteas with the blade at limited-overs level.

Instead the previously in-form skipper has found himself in the midst of a little period as Mitchell Starc's "bunny" - something that can be rectified if he simply plays straighter and a tad more cautiously at the outset against the dangerous left-arm strike bowler.

But it has meant an onus on other, sometimes less trumpeted figures to take deeper responsibility for the Proteas’ run accumulation, with Klaasen, Malan, David Miller and (before his hamstring hassles) Temba Bavuma all coming to light to varying degrees in recent weeks.

The situation is turning healthy as depth is clearly mounting again after a troubling spell, especially in the key front three or four berths in the order.

It also piles some constructive pressure on veteran Faf du Plessis to rediscover his mojo with some stealth after a poor summer across the board, and will bring back into the spotlight sharply the wisdom or otherwise of welcoming back absent superstar AB de Villiers soon in the build-up to the T20 World Cup.

The Potchefstroom match will afford the Proteas a chance, with the pressures now a little more relaxed, to buck up control in their bowling in the opening powerplay, which has been too leaky too often at both ODI and T20 level in the last few weeks and even before that period.

But on the plus side, seamers like Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje have been demonstrating stirring “bounce-back ability” in the demanding later overs of innings. With some fine-tuning of their earlier assaults, they will be serious handfuls ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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England 219
Pakistan 326 & 137/8 (44 ov)
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England 219
Pakistan 326 & 137/8 (44 ov)
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