It’s OK to praise Proteas, y’know ...

 Faf du Plessis (Getty)
Faf du Plessis (Getty)

Cape Town – I am somehow reminded, at times like this, that supporters and observers of South African cricket are a particularly hard-to-please bunch.

When the Proteas are floundering, cynicism, carping criticism or outright vitriol come to the fore with significant stealth, featuring a wide range of targets within the set-up.

There are occasions when it is inevitable, and even justified. (Our cricket does have a horribly traditional tendency, after all, to shoot itself in the foot at pivotal moments, whether on or off the field of play.)

Yet when they are prospering, especially if it is a little against expectation, a significant lobby who zealously put the boot in when they’re down, simply go schtum for a tactical period rather than have the magnanimity or bonhomie to join the praise-singers.

The national team have just come off a truly landmark one-day international series conquest, providing the country’s team-sport landscape as a whole with a massive tonic during otherwise challenging times by trouncing Australia 5-0.

Hear it again, I implore you: yes, that’s arch-rivals the Aussies … five-nil.

Of course undying fans, and happily they do exist, have been over the moon, a phenomenon presumably matching the whoop-it-up buzz in the Newlands dressing room among Faf du Plessis’s admirably unrelenting troops of the last two or three weeks.

Not only was this the first time either country has clean-swept the other in a bilateral ODI series of any length, but it was also, rather damningly, a maiden experience against any comers (the Aussies have been playing this format since 1970/71, some two decades longer than SA) for them to suffer such fate over the course of a five-game series.

Yet all you hear from a certain proportion of domestic Proteas-watchers is “pah, Aussie second-string side” or “never mind this, the real deal is the November Test series Down Under”.

Well, yes, the Test series will be a bigger deal to traditionalists and others, and rightly so … few in either national camp would dispute that, either.

But the first-named charge is annoyingly over-weighted.

It is true that the Australians arrived minus several highly-proven and more incisive pace bowlers than the pummelled unit we eventually witnessed.

But this is a widespread occurrence worldwide in bilateral ODI series, especially when a long gap still exists to the next World Cup (like now) and nations take the opportunity to rest overworked players and allow others to get over injuries picked up on the crazy itinerary treadmill.

Simultaneously, they might well use the exercise as an opportunity to examine reserve personnel with a view to the longer-term future; gauge whether they look likelier to sink or swim.

Still, Australia reached our shores as the No 1-ranked side in the 50-overs arena (the Proteas have now pushed back up to a freshly-menacing second) and still with around two-thirds of their full-strength staffing, including virtually all of their premier batsmen, plus front-line limited-overs spinner for most of the year in Adam Zampa.

Nor is it as though the much-maligned seam battery contained exclusively callow rookies: the 30-year-old John Hastings arrived with more than 20 ODI appearances already beneath his belt, and Scott Boland had been having a good prior run in the side, too.

Besides, no Aussie squad are ever an all-embracing bunch of pride-shorn, shrinking violets; we saw plenty of evidence of that during heated sledging or borderline argy-bargy encounters in the series, didn’t we?

They would have gone home hurting, tails between legs, and determined for no repeat; that is their time-honoured way.

Through it all, a Proteas line-up featuring an array of fresh or at least relatively new faces, and vastly contrasting levels of experience, kept their foot firmly and mercilessly on the pedal, determined not to give the Aussies a sniff of victory opportunity – all five wins were secured with daylight to spare, a statement all of its own.

That the series triumph was achieved with an illuminatingly strong transformation element to the brew, and vital contributors consistently widely spread, was especially striking.

The intensity shown by the national side, too, was in line with renewed devotion on that front throughout the season thus far, if you bring into the picture the crushing, short Test series-deciding win against New Zealand at Centurion and the way minnows Ireland were duly slaughtered in the effective “tune-up” to this particular ODI series.

Throughout this time, the Proteas could barely have played better, really. 

Nor is it even as though South Africa were at fullest personnel complement against the Australians: missing were a certain AB de Villiers, still perched at the top of the ODI batsman rankings despite his absence, and an almost equally seasoned factor in the pace department, the lanky 108-cap Morne Morkel, boasting wonderful stats in the format.

So be a devil. Go on, dare to wave our flag. You would not be breaking any rules, you know.

And if you’re insistent on being a party-pooper … dare I ask you why?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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