Cape Town – South Africa have humiliated World Cup champions and ICC No 1-ranked India in their one-day international mini-series.
That can already be said with some conviction -- regardless of the outcome of the now guaranteed dead-rubber third encounter at Centurion on Wednesday.
Successive drubbings by 141 runs at the Wanderers and then a Madiba memorial-inspired 134 runs at damp Kingsmead on Sunday have ensured that slightly unexpected state of affairs.
AB de Villiers and his charges, demonstrating great intensity and ruthlessness in both matches thus far, will want nothing less than to secure a clean sweep at SuperSport Park, while the tourists will be desperate for the tonic of a consolation victory to be able to claim at least some hint of momentum for the task facing them in the Test series.
The first of the duo of five-dayers starts in Johannesburg in only 10 days’ time, and an awful lot of remedial work awaits the Indians both technically and mentally in the interim to adjust much more suitably to local conditions than they have in two wretched limited-overs showings.
India have just surrendered their first bilateral ODI series in five, although in that period had also been triumphs by Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side in the Champions Trophy and a three-nation series in the Caribbean featuring West Indies, Sri Lanka and themselves.
Their previous loss in a bilateral series had come when arch-rivals Pakistan visited India in late 2012 and pipped them 2-1.
The Proteas’ latest, muscular triumph, even on a pitch that had little of the venom on display at the Bullring a few days ago, has not yet been enough to see them gain a notch on the official rankings.
They stay fifth for the time being, but did gain two rating points to go to 110, which is the same tally as Sri Lanka, mathematically ahead in fourth. Third-placed England (111) are also well within reach, so rather more tangible progress may well be evident after Wednesday’s final fixture if SA win again.
While it is too early to suggest that South Africa have put their relatively long-time 50-overs blues behind them – it is only very recently that they lost 2-1 at home to Pakistan – this series win, added to the 4-1 prior success against the Pakistanis in the United Arab Emirates, does seem to confirm proper progress.
The next World Cup in Australasia is not much more than a year out and the Proteas are in a better space now, with time for further tweaks and improvement before they tackle an old nemesis tournament.
Once again the Proteas owed plenty to a gigantic opening partnership between the hot new firm in limited-overs cricket: Hashim Amla and rookie Quinton de Kock.
They followed up their 152 in 29.3 overs at the Bullring with 194 in 35.1 overs at Kingsmead, and the baby-faced assassin De Kock sports back-to-back centuries.
It is also a comforting harbinger for the looming Test combat that established run-machine Amla has hit a purple patch of his own at a convenient time: his last four knocks in consecutive ODIs, from most recent, are 100, 65, 41 and 98.
Amla and De Kock easily bettered the previous record for a first-wicket ODI stand in Durban of 170, achieved by Australian master blasters Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden in 2001/02.
They also ensured that their country posted three-figure opening partnerships in successive matches for the first time since the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.
In that tournament, Graeme Smith and De Villiers plundered 134 against minnows Scotland in the first group match, and then followed it up with 160 against eventual champions the Aussies, even though the Proteas were whipped by 83 runs in a high-scoring St Kitts fixture anyway.
Meanwhile strike bowler Dale Steyn continues to not only torment India, after two snarling performances against them, but also build on his best ever personal period in ODI combat – he has bagged as many as 20 wickets in his last five outings and was admirably supported at Kingsmead by left-arm beanpole Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who earned two wickets in each of his two spells.
It will be interesting to see whether the Phalaborwa Express is withdrawn from the mix for Centurion, now that the series is done and dusted, because although it will probably be a struggle to grab the ball from his hand in current form, first prize – surely? -- is to ensure he is absolutely niggle-free and fresh for the Tests ...
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