Proteas fire strong WT20 signal

AB de Villiers and Imran Tahir (AFP)
AB de Villiers and Imran Tahir (AFP)

Cape Town – You have to caution against excessive comparisons with its 50-overs cousin, but South Africa look in revitalised shape nevertheless for a healthy assault on the ICC World Twenty20 title.

It is a pleasing fact that the overwhelming majority of the limited-overs personnel who engineered the Proteas’ gutsy, come-from-behind 3-2 ODI series triumph over England – eventually completed in quite emphatic fashion at Newlands on Sunday – will quickly switch codes now to the T20-themed end to the season.

After hosting England in a two-game mini-series (the first at the same ground on Friday), and then playing a further three T20 fixtures also at home to Australia, South Africa travel to India for a crack at winning another of those elusive ICC major tournaments.

You pick favourites at your peril in that format, and the 2016 event is likely to be no different in that respect, but at least you get a sense that a cloud over SA cricket is beginning to lift at a good time after a problematic summer marked by successive Test series defeats.

As stalwart former wicketkeeper Mark Boucher observed in SuperSport commentary, while invaluable century-maker AB de Villiers helped guide his troops over the ODI series line: “They’ve been through a tough time, (and) needed to get used to winning again. This will stand them in good stead.”

Thirteen of the squad who turned out against England over the last near-fortnight are scheduled to convert straight away to T20 activity, with left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso added immediately and veteran strike bowler Dale Steyn intended to link up, fitness permitting, in time for the matches against the Aussies.

In broad terms, the Proteas’ limited-overs set-up can be considered to be in pretty sound nick; this series success was the third ODI one on the trot, following prior triumphs over India (away, 3-2) and New Zealand (home, 2-1).

Say what you like about head coach Russell Domingo and his various deputies in a Test context, but under their charge South Africa have achieved landmark ODI series victories in tough environments like Sri Lanka, the UAE (against Pakistan), New Zealand and India, won a triangular tournament that also involved arch-rivals Australia, and come as close as on any previous occasion to taking the country into a World Cup final.

This was also a hugely satisfying outcome against a fast-emerging, undoubtedly talented England side which, as former national captain Michael Vaughan candidly said in a tweet on Sunday, “will be very, very dangerous when they develop some brains”.

He was referring to some of their ill-advised shot selections -- and just as often associated dismissals -- at Newlands as they allowed themselves to be bowled out with a full five overs left, after being sent in, despite a ton from player-of-the-series Alex Hales.

Mind you, the current SA side are a long way from “finished article” status as well; they are just as capable of doing inexplicably daft things at unfortunate moments and there was a mixed bag of the sublime and the inept to both their bowling and batting at times.

They are more moody than they are a machine, if you like ... yet always a threat simply because of the impressive, proven quality of their major parts.

On that score, it was fitting, after all the trials and tribulations they have gone through as senior staffers in the rocky last few months, that the Proteas were primarily powered to Sunday’s decisive win by De Villiers and Hashim Amla, who righted a listing ship from a precarious 22 for three in pursuit of the target of 237.

Their century partnership was their 11th together in ODIs, taking them to joint-ninth on the all-time global list for most 100-run-or-more alliances between pairs, and the leading South Africans right alongside Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs.

Leading the pack by some distance with no fewer than 26 ton-up stands are Indian legends Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, although they did have the benefit of 15 generous years together in the format; De Villiers and Amla have had only eight so far, for instance.

There will be lingering doubts about the balance and make-up of the Proteas’ XI in the 50-overs arena, but this is less of an issue in the more condensed T20 game where teams are less frequently required to bat really deep and moderate or inexperienced bowlers can get away with short, wily stints that are often completed almost in the blink of an eyelid.

So South Africa have every reason to feel confident that sometimes maligned men like JP Duminy, Chris Morris, Farhaan Behardien and David Wiese (though the last-named was impressive in the closing ODI on Sunday) can be genuinely influential in their varying ways at the World T20.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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