Cape Town – Coming hot on the heels of the Springboks’ upset by Ireland, South Africa’s tight Twenty20 international match – and by extension series – defeat to arch-rivals Australia on Sunday completed a slightly harrowing weekend for the domestic sports public.
But the cricket reverse at Stadium Australia in Sydney is less worrisome, given that T20 is a pretty low priority at present and the real deal, if you like, starts with the five-match ODI series from Friday in Perth.
The 50-overs format is hugely more relevant as the World Cup is only three months away and the Proteas will be happy to reintegrate steely characters like AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn and company into their plans for the next couple of weeks.
Yes, it is disappointing that JP Duminy’s experimental troops could not kick on after thumping the host nation in the first of the three T20 clashes, but the silver lining was that this easily their most competitive of three series in the ultra-condensed format Down Under since 2005/06.
The South Africans showed good perseverance and resolve in dragging Sunday’s decider down to the second-last delivery, after spells during the game when it seemed they might be blitzed in roughly the manner they were in game two at the MCG only two days earlier.
And if the exercise was going to carry at least some weight in squad-composition plans for CWC 2015, then it probably served its purpose in a few ways.
It would have usefully reminded team management and critics/public that in both limited-overs environments, the Proteas still have some issues to grapple with when it comes to sustainability or “kicking on” at the crease after promising starts.
South Africa remain a more compelling start-of-innings team than they are at performing the second- half job: the promise of big totals from solid -- or occasionally even blistering -- early platforms all too often peters out.
This was certainly the case again on Sunday, and just 15 runs more after batting first might have made all the difference in swaying the game and series the more desired way.
Even the ridiculously partisan Australian television commentators (there are one or two exceptions) lost some steam in the hometown superlatives department as young Quinton de Kock, with more sedate aid from Reeza Hendricks, ensured a rollicking start with the way he targeted the much shorter straight boundaries at the large but slightly soulless stadium.
When De Kock was first man out at 75 after 8.4 overs, a commanding total of 170 or more looked a solid bet, but instead the SA innings subsided like a flimsy factory erected by a corrupt, cowboy builder.
That said, credit had to go to the Aussie attack for the discipline and mix-up skills they exhibited in their concerted back-end strangulation job.
Incredibly the Proteas could only find the ropes twice in the last five overs, which is the sort of statistic that tends to spell “trouble” for the defence of your score in a T20 game.
So under those circumstances, the tourists did very well to keep striking back in the wickets column whenever the Aussies threatened to put the game to bed early.
With the bigger picture of the World Cup in mind, Kyle Abbott producing a second cool, effective “death” spell in three contests – he had also been brilliant in the Adelaide Oval win – was a satisfying box for coach Russell Domingo and his aides to tick.
There was also the bonus of all-rounder David Wiese, who has not yet been exposed to the ODI landscape and now a little regrettably returns home, coming to light a bit unexpectedly with the ball, something that is often considered the big-hitter’s weaker string to his bow.
The tall right-arm medium-pacer from Roodepoort was enterprising and intelligent with the way he varied his pace and lengths and rolled his wrist, ending with career-best figures in his fifth T20 international of 4-0-21-3.
This was the second time in three games by him – the other was against Sri Lanka in Hambantota in August last year – that he has done the business as a bowler, and just maybe he is someone who could also beef up his country’s lower-order striking potential when the World Cup comes around.
As pundit Mark Boucher noted in the SuperSport studio as he summed up the close T20 series: “We’ve seen that there is some talent in the back of the dressing room.”
That is no bad thing, surely?
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