- SA's T20 series versus Pakistan could have enormous ramifications for players looking to stake a claim for T20 World Cup places.
- Spots that are still up for debate could be settled with a few good performances, while off-form players risk missing out.
- Newbies Janneman Malan and Kyle Verreynne are fast making a step to international renown.
The Proteas face Pakistan in a four-game T20 series starting at the Wanderers on Saturday (14:30 start) in a series that could have enormous ramifications for players looking to stake a claim for T20 World Cup places.
The "Big Five" currently doing duty at this year's Indian Premier League (IPL) safely pick themselves for the Proteas' T20 World Cup squad but, other than captain Temba Bavuma and Rassie van Dussen, there are some spots up for debate.
With Bavuma officially ruled out through a hamstring injury and Van der Dussen also an injury doubt for the first T20, the wider Proteas T20 squad gets another opportunity to show selectors what they can do.
Already this week, Janneman Malan and Kyle Verreynne took up the challenge in the third ODI defeat to Pakistan in Centurion, where they made 70 and 62, respectively.
The Capetonian pair have a chance to play their way into SA's top order in the way Van der Dussen did on the eve of 2019's 50-over World Cup.
"I thought they played brilliantly in that third ODI," said Proteas T20 stand-in skipper Heinrich Klaasen.
"They showed that they can perform at this level. They are two quality youngsters and they will play for South Africa for a very long time, in my opinion."
While the Proteas aren't short of run-getters, they desperately lack enough match-winners that can reliably close chases or put together an innings to propel the side to a competitive total.
They've placed heavy reliance on Quinton de Kock getting a brisk bundle of runs at the top, Bavuma to rescue a collapse in the middle and Miller to pull a miracle when all else fails.
When those three players fail, the adverse effect is that the other Proteas wickets cascade down along with them, leaving the innings in tatters or well behind where they ought to be in a chase.
For a while, Klaasen had emerged as the alternative innings anchor who could score swiftly, but form has deserted him in 2021.
After failing three times in Lahore during February's three-match T20 series in Pakistan, Klaasen couldn't extricate himself from the rut on arrival in SA during the ODI series.
Klaasen will be acutely aware that form also deserted him at the worst possible time, just before the World Cup in England in 2019.
He certainly isn't the only one who needs to up his game in this series.
But potential debutant Verreynne believes South Africa has a capable ensemble to win the T20 series against Pakistan, even without the "Big Five".
"I know there's a lot of guys in the IPL but we've got a really exciting batting line-up," said Verreynne.
"Even the guys that haven't left to the IPL, Rassie is in great form. There's a lot of guys that have done really well at T20 level.
"We've got what it takes with the bat. It's going to be really exciting. The highveld normally makes for a high-scoring, quick-scoring game.
"It's going to be really exciting and we've definitely got what it takes to win."
On the other hand, Pakistan looks like a settled side with minimal airs and graces about them.
They take the lead from their inspirational captain Babar Azam, who does most of his talking with the bat.
Fakhar Zaman has joined Azam in the runs stakes and it won't be long before Mohammad Rizwan, or Sarfaraz Ahmed climb in on the big run-scoring act as well.
If given a go in the T20's, opener Imam-Ul-Haq will be another run-scoring threat after getting a couple of half-centuries in the ODI series that Pakistan won 2-1.
After playing them in three T20's in Lahore, three ODI's at home, Klaasen is well aware of how genuinely good this Pakistan team is.
"They are a quality side and it's actually nice playing against them," he said.
"We need to win this series to get back at them.
"They've been playing good cricket against us, so it's a good challenge for the boys in these four games.
"We are all excited to play a new format again. We want to play a positive brand of cricket and a little bit of streetwise cricket.
"We want to play positively. This is the way the game is going, and we need to keep up with the new style of play."