Never mind the anticlimactic manner in which they ended the recent T20 International series against Pakistan – a 17-run loss in a dead rubber in Centurion last two weeks ago – there’s a myriad reasons to be happy and excited about Ottis Gibson’s boys’ form in the shorter formats of the game.
I know what matters most this year is how we do in the One-Dayers, but I feel it’s also worth mentioning the way we’ve been performing in the shortest format because, at the end of the day, it is also white-ball cricket. I also know that I did write months ago that I was already in doubt about our World Cup prospects, given our batsmen’s inability to cope with spin bowling even on our own playing conditions. But things seem to have changed to a degree post that fateful test series against Sri Lanka last July.
For one, we did manage to avenge the series whitewash by winning the One-Day series 3-2, and we also beat Australia (Down Under!), Zimbabwe (not that that counts for much), but also recently, the very impressive Pakistan, in the series following.
Also very satisfying to witness has been the relative ease with which we were able to beat those teams, not to mention that Mickey Arthur’s Pakistan were beaten with a few of our stars rested, while they always had the big guns out.
The resting of some players throughout the series has also meant new faces get a chance, and boy have some of them taken them! Highveld Lions batsman Rassie van der Dussen is incomparably my favourite of the new boys, not least because he looks nothing like a new boy on the international stage when he’s in the crease.
It was his 127-run partnership with man of the moment Andile Phehlukwayo which helped South Africa survive the gun’s barrel in the second One-Day International (ODI) in Durban to win by 5 wickets and level the series 1-1, a few days after being beaten by the same margin in the series opener in which, by the way, he scored 93.
That match in Port Elizabeth was his first in a Proteas shirt.
Another gratifying thing to see of late has been Phehlukwayo’s growth in the contentious no.7 role. In the said ODI where he and Van der Dussen helped SA to win by 5 wickets, he had a match worthy to be recorded in the annals. He was not only outstanding with bat and ball – as world-class all-rounders are, every now and again – but also with his fielding, as he also took a couple of catches in the deep.
He proved that he is the undisputed best no.7 at the moment, one who has to bat in the position come the World Cup in May.
The Proteas’ next pre-World Cup ODI series is against Sri Lanka, starting on 3 March, a five-match series which is also their last before the global competition in England and Wales. Expect another SA series win.