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Cricket: Four talking points from South Africa’s Tri-series in Zimbabwe

Cricket: Four talking points from South Africa’s Tri-series in Zimbabwe

From Dale Steyn being as good as ever to Faf du Plessis being Australia’s new tormentor, there was much to talk about after South Africa triumphed in the ODI tri-series final over Australia on Saturday. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

South Africa beat Australia in the final of the triangular series in Harare on Saturday. In what seemed like a never-ending repeat of teams playing each other, South Africa came out on top, beating Australia by six wickets with 55 balls still remaining. With World Cup preparation now well and truly underway, South Africa learned many important lessons over the last few days.

Many things will still be assessed and tweaked before the World Cup comes knocking next year, but in the short-term, South Africa seems to be cobbling together a team which will give any of the big boys a run for their money if they manage to keep their composure. Here are the top talking points from the tri-series.

South Africa can hold their nerve under pressure

The c-word has followed the South Africans around like a fat old elephant just waiting to trample on their spirit. In crunch matches, especially semi-finals of the ICC competition variety, South Africa has struggled. Trumpeters of the c-word would have been sitting on the edge of their seats over the tri-series, desperately waiting to bellow it out in what has become ritualistic sadism against a team capable of failing so spectacularly despite a wealth of talent. But there was none of that this time around. Not against Zimbabwe when the batting collapsed, not against Australia when they chased a big total and not against Australia, in a final, when they had to score but a lowly number of runs. It might not quite break the shackles of their choking past, but at least it’s proven that this side has got something special about them.

Faf du Plessis has made the Australian team his bunny

If you’re an Aussie, you’re forgiven if you’re sick of the sight of Faf du Plessis by now. He seems to have made the Aussies his bunny in every format of the game. In fact, Du Plessis could probably have beaten the Aussie rugby team on Saturday. It’s as if he is channelling all of the pain suffered by Daryl Cullinan and exacting revenge for all the years the former South African batsman was tormented by the men from Down Under. Du Plessis has taken root at number three and with this kind of form, opposition will feel he’s stubbornly sticking around like those annoying weeds that don’t seem to die even if you set them on fire. He missed out on being the first-ever player to hit four centuries in a series after being dismissed for 96 in during South Africa’s chase. A late thwack from AB de Villiers aimed to spur him on a bit, like a father pushing his child into the deep end and telling him to swim. Du Plessis started to slightly lose his composure towards the end, but that hardly matters in the greater scheme of things. South Africa has found a solid number three and Australia has met somebody who is going to make their life hell. He finished the series with 464 runs at an average of 92.82, nearly double the amount of runs of the second-highest run scorer – Aaron Finch with 250.

The composition of the team is only halfway there

From the tail, starting very early on, to a few inconsistent players, experimentation with pinch hitters like Wayne Parnell and not having settled on a spinner yet, not everything about this one-day team is certain. There is time to fine-tune these things and, as it stands, nine times out of ten South Africa’s big-name individuals will get the team out of a hole. Most intriguing will be what is done with the spinner role. Both Aaron Phangiso and Imran Tahir were more than apt in Zimbabwe. Both finished with five wickets, with Phangiso having a slightly lower average and economy rate compared to Tahir. Phangiso also bowled better lines and was more consistent and more confident of his stock ball compared to Tahir. Considering Duminy’s place in the team as a part-time spinner and the fact that the World Cup will be played on tracks far more suitable to the quick bowlers, South Africa faces an intriguing selection dilemma when it comes to selecting their final 15 to travel to Australia and New Zealand next year.

If you were still in doubt, Dale Steyn is a beast

Unless you’re the captain of the England team, you probably know that Dale Steyn is the best bowler in the world. He has had a few blips in this tri-series, but on Saturday, through a tantric spell of reverse swing, he absolutely decimated the Australian middle order. Michael Clarke, he of the dodgy back and leader of the Australian team, Tweeted his surprise at how quickly South Africa got the ball reversing. Cynical observers will draw all kinds of sinister conclusions, but when Steyn is on song, he is something quite extraordinary. While his workload should be carefully managed at this stage of his career, if he stays fit for the World Cup and gets let loose on those pacey Aussie wickets, he’s going to be a real handful. DM

Photo: South Africa’s batsman Faf du Plessis plays a shot during the Super Eight stage match of the World Twenty20 tournament between South Africa and India in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 02 October 2012. EPA/HARISH TYAGI

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