Cape Town – South Africa are one tantalising ODI victory away from becoming standalone, second best team of all time for most consecutive victories in the format.
If they beat New Zealand in the second of five clashes at Christchurch on Wednesday (midnight start, SA time) they will have earned 13 triumphs on the trot.
It will be their maiden experience of Hagley Oval, never previously having played an international of any format at the ground.
But getting over the line in that fixture will ensure that AB de Villiers’s charges move beyond a dozen consecutive ODI wins, a landmark they presently share with a Pakistan outfit of November 2007 to June 2008 and a compatriot side under Graeme Smith’s tenure of February 2005 to October the same year.
Smith’s charges, in order of achievement, beat England once (home), Zimbabwe three times (home), West Indies five times (away), and New Zealand three times (home) to reach their 12 victories, featuring such limited-overs stalwarts as Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini.
Of course the current crew have had the advantage of as many as 11 of their 12 triumphs being achieved on SA turf, but clean sweeping both Australia and Sri Lanka 5-0 along the way nevertheless takes some doing.
They will also be chuffed to have their noses in front against the tough Black Caps in their own environment, following Sunday’s last-over thriller at Hamilton, where skipper De Villiers and young Andile Phehlukwayo showed enormous composure at the critical time on a tricky strip to eke out the result.
It remains a very tall order for them to get even close to matching or eclipsing the stellar, runaway record landmark of 21 victories in succession by the Australian side of 2003 under Ricky Ponting’s guiding hand.
That sequence, between January and May of that year, included a decisive 11 wins at the World Cup on African soil, including the Wanderers final against India.
For the Proteas to advance their run to a still highly unlikely 22 triumphs, they would need to clinch all of the remaining four ODIs in the Land of the Long White Cloud, all three against England away in late May, and then all three group matches at the ICC Champions Trophy in the UK in June – their opponents there will be Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India.
That will probably only be somewhere near the back of their minds right now; the Hamilton nail-biter served up a reminder that just beating New Zealand in this series, regardless of margin, will be a sterling achievement.
*The Black Caps have won all five of their own prior ODIs at Hagley Oval, four of them against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the most recent one by 77 runs, on Boxing Day.
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