Proteas to end grim record?

Marchant de Lange (AFP)
Marchant de Lange (AFP)

Cape Town – Three matches ... three hefty defeats. That is South Africa’s short, simple Twenty20 international track record against Australia on their own soil.

So just being a lot more competitive would be a good start as the Proteas tackle their most elongated T20 roster yet -- three matches -- Down Under, starting at revamped Adelaide Oval on Wednesday (10:35 SA time) before moving on to the MCG and SCG.

For all the necessary hype being created by both camps, this is essentially an exercise to get bums on seats and try to ensure healthy television audiences, given that this season the much bigger focus is on the 50-overs format and a World Cup in Australasia in February.

These are really just limb-looseners for several players from both reasonably experimental squads, who will be tackling the considerably more meaningful five-match ODI series shortly afterwards between the teams ranked one – the Proteas -- and three on the planet.

But as the codes are not too dissimilar, some additional members will aim to nudge their respective selection panels about their possible credentials for the CWC spectacle.

The T20 clashes would carry significantly more weight, of course, if another World T20 was on the immediate horizon, hence the fairly callow make-up of the combatants on this less critical occasion.

South Africa are resting various cross-format heavyweights like AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, whilst the broad Australian cricket public could be forgiven for any confusion over where their eyes should be trained right now.

That is because this T20 series comes as quickly as two days after the Baggy Greens’ 0-2 Test series humiliation at the hands of Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, meaning such headline characters of their own as David Warner and Mitchell Johnson first need a chance to unclutter their minds and rest their bodies before they can switch to limited-overs demands.

Even a Warner-less Aussie side for immediate purposes probably looks stronger on paper in the key batting department: the Proteas will place a pretty heavy demand on Duminy, who has a good T20 track record in Australia, and Quinton de Kock for significant runs.

As reported on Sport24 on Monday, supposed middle-order miracle worker David Miller is desperately low on decent totals and presumably also confidence; any signs of improvement in the T20s will be manna from heaven from a visiting point of view as they keep the World Cup focus strong.

South Africa have plenty to choose from in seam bowling terms, and it is this area that ought to only produce increasingly earnest competition for CWC berths: depending on game-by-game selections, Duminy may be summoning stints from all of Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell, Kyle Abbott and the particularly raw teenager Kagiso Rabada who will have a harsh baptism on hostile terrain if the chance comes his way.

But there are also a couple of genuine tearaways potentially going head to head, if the Aussies opt to expose the horribly injury-prone but massively promising Pat Cummins – he’s given various South African batsmen a right old hurry-up before – and SA fight fire with fire through muscular, undoubtedly swift Marchant de Lange.

By its very nature, T20 is a lottery in prediction terms, and if the Proteas are still in it at, say, 1-1 going into the Sydney climax on Sunday, then anything is possible in a series outcome context.

Duminy and coach Russell Domingo might do well to remind their charges, if there are butterflies in some instances, that considerably more experienced-looking South African T20 sides have floundered in Australia previously.

The Proteas were thrashed by 95 runs in their first ever away contest in the format against these foes at Brisbane in 2005/06, a once-off in which Damien Martyn blasted 96 in a home total of 200-plus, and then SA were skittled for 114.

Much more naive about the fledgling T20 landscape then, South Africa fielded such “orthodox” players as Boeta Dippenaar and, at No 7, Jacques Rudolph -- both decent batsmen but infinitely better suited to longer formats.

In the only other bilateral T20 meetings Down Under, a two-game series in 2008/09, Australia again cleaned up 2-0, winning by 52 runs in Melbourne (debutant Warner 89 off an eventful 43 balls) and six wickets in Brisbane.

The only ray of light from the relative gloom was Duminy getting 78 out of another scrawny total of 130 all out in the first game, and another 69 not out in his follow-up knock.

South Africa could do with another hatful from the little left-hander, now saddled with extra burdens, over the next few days ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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