Cape Town – The Proteas are suddenly back under the public cosh to some degree, following the 2-1 surrender of the Twenty20 international series against Sri Lanka.
It is understandable that their more fervent, demanding supporters want victories at every turn, and those fans had been pretty spoilt on that front, up to the last few days: a Test series triumph over New Zealand, 5-0 clean sweep of Australia in one-day internationals, Test series victory Down Under, and 3-0 whitewash of the ‘Lankans in the prime Test portion of their tour here.
There is some indignation -- albeit primarily evident on the dubious barometer of social media -- that South Africa lost the three-game T20 jamboree fielding quite clearly “second-string”, largely untried combinations; that it was an unnecessary occurrence.
Yes, they were unusually fumbling and too frantic at times (an ongoing source of concern, maybe?) in the see-sawing decider at Newlands on Wednesday.
I would still argue with some conviction, nevertheless, that the policy was entirely the correct one, with future planning imaginatively in mind, and the series hiccup from a 1-0 lead … well, simply one of those things.
Remember that the T20 section of the Sri Lankan visit was always going to be the most lotto-like and lightweight, particularly given that it came at a relatively meaningless time for the format in global terms, with whispers seemingly fading that another ICC World T20 will be fast-tracked to 2018.
Many educated cricket personalities resolutely still believe that T20 should not be an international-level feature anyway, arguing it only clutters the gruelling global calendar too much and adds to the various risks – including damaging pick-and-choose trends – of player burnout.
So in that context, it is not as though the Proteas’ world has caved in spectacularly.
What the Proteas selectors have probably succeeded in doing over the past week or thereabouts, is broaden their knowledge of which players, from an agreeably expanding pool, look as though they might cut it more regularly when more relevant, multi-national T20 tournaments are held.
Just for example, Lungi Ngidi has leapt to the fore on the pace-bowling front, Andile Phehlukwayo underlined his death-bowling potential with a couple of really tight, cool-headed overs toward the back end of the Newlands heart-stopper and Mangaliso Mosehle, sporting a certain X-factor, confirmed he can strike a ball very lethally square on the off-side for “maximums”.
There was a difficult home-ground debut for Dane Paterson, but with apologies to Coldplay “if you never try then you’ll never know”, and the seamer will be aware that he has to return to domestic play and work hard to improve the range of his skills if he is to get back onto the SA radar some time.
Immeasurably more important limited-overs activity is just around the corner, starting in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, when the first of the five one-day internationals is staged.
Reassuringly if you are partial to the Proteas and would like to see a return to the lofty standards achieved across platforms by them just ahead of the T20s, they are hugely beefed now by the return, presumably appropriately rested, of names like Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock.
With due respect to the commendably re-energised tourists, who at least have signalled that they should make a fair fist of the ODIs from here, they will not have the luxury of such heavyweight reinforcements as the mode switches to 50-overs fare.
With the game “elongating” again, South Africa’s superior depth, and knowledge of and comfort in local conditions, ought to be too much for the team ranked sixth in the world to the Proteas’ present second.
Even if it ended in defeat, AB de Villiers’ much-publicised return to the national strip on Wednesday seemed to confirm that he is poised to carry on where he had left off as a demoraliser of attacks, and now in a format where he averages 53.63 and commands a strike rate of a mere fraction under 100.
It will be much more of a shock, and a concern of some magnitude, if a now largely full-strength SA limited-overs side comes a cropper over the next couple of weeks, bearing in mind that the Champions Trophy is only some five months away and Sri Lanka will be first group opponents (The Oval) there.
Personally, I’m not betting a dime on that prospect, despite the just-witnessed T20 delights of Niroshan Dickwella, Lakshan Sandakan and company.
But if this outcome happens, then some barbs toward the Proteas will be more justified …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing