Cape Town – South Africa may once again opt for some degree of experimentation with World Cup needs in mind, but they are even more sure to employ a “no let-up” mindset in the dead-rubber third one-day international in New Zealand on Monday.
There is the incentive in Hamilton (start 23:30 Sunday, SA time) not only to clean sweep one of the two CWC 2015 host nations – a satisfying statement in itself -- but also to simultaneously ensure a return to No 1 status on the ICC’s ODI rankings.
The Proteas have registered convincing victories twice on the trot over the Black Caps – admittedly badly missing Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor right now in their brittle specialist batting order – courtesy of Friday’s 72-run triumph at Mount Maunganui.
Again the performance was not without its hiccups, but it is preferable to have them at present than at the World Cup itself, and in overall terms the tourists only underlined what a formidable, fresh force they are developing into under the tutelage of captain AB de Villiers and coach Russell Domingo.
Whatever happens at Seddon Park on Monday, the Proteas have already secured a fourth bilateral series victory in succession: this one, plus prior conquests of Zimbabwe (3-0 away), Sri Lanka (2-1 away) and India (2-0 home).
Bear in mind that in between, they also bagged the triangular jamboree in Zimbabwe which also involved arch-enemies Australia.
It can hardly be disputed that there has been significant, progressive improvement since the last reverse – 2-1 against Pakistan on SA terrain in 2013/14 when the Proteas side looked glaringly transitional and De Villiers was still finding his feet as on-field commander.
By winning four “bilaterals” in a row, they have equalled the last achievement of that landmark between 2010 and 2011, when West Indies were beaten 5-0 away, Zimbabwe 3-0 in SA, Pakistan 3-2 in the United Arab Emirates and India 3-2 in SA.
Although it is unlikely to be too heavily on their minds at this point, when the Proteas move on shortly for the five-match challenge in Australia they will be in with a crack at making it five.
This has only been achieved once before by South Africa, when they had a prosperous period during the calendar years of 2007 and 2008 – part of the lengthy Graeme Smith captaincy era – and saw off all of Zimbabwe, Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh.
Friday’s win yet again underlined how strong the Proteas’ mainline batting is, with Hashim Amla to the fore on this occasion as he methodically notched his 16th ODI century and hiked his average ever closer to the 55-mark (currently 54.91).
We also were reminded, if it were even needed, of the bowling strike power at the front of an opposition innings, although remarkably for the second match in a row New Zealand salvaged some pride at the crease through a record, happy-go-lucky 10th-wicket partnership after the horse had bolted.
The Proteas will be well aware of their ongoing shortcomings towards the “death” phase, so suffering the angst now is no bad thing: they will only expect to gradually iron out the flaw in the remaining months to the World Cup.
What was refreshing was the quirky bit of medium-slow seam bowling experimentation with De Villiers himself.
A man of plentiful talents – and not only in a sporting sense – this was just his third bowl in 170 personal ODIs and he had a bit of success (6-0-28-2) even if he won’t break too many jaws or go routinely past the outside edge of Bradman, Richards or Tendulkar types.
The Proteas, post-Kallis, could do with a batsman who can trundle a bit of seam on days – like this one – when they decide to load the batting a bit at the expense of the bowling, so the step wasn’t the most outrageous one they will ever take ...
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