Proteas’ Cricket World Cup preparation is on track after win over Australia
The Proteas aren’t favourites for the World Cup title, but after their showings against Australia they look like possible dark horses.
The Proteas’ remarkable come-from-behind series win against Australia will stand them in good stead heading into the Cricket World Cup in India at the start of October.
The Aussies were admittedly without a number of frontline stars, including regular captain Pat Cummins, opening bowler Mitchell Starc and generational batter Steve Smith, among others.
The five-match one-day international (ODI) series provided South Africa with the ideal pressure scenario – having fought back from 0-2 down to clinch the series 3-2 – right before the global tournament.
All three victories came in emphatic fashion: by 111 runs, 164 runs and 122 runs.
However, the Proteas won’t get carried away with their series win over their old foes.
“It’s easy to get caught in the emotion on either side [of winning and losing],” said head coach Rob Walter.
“As the coach, it’s important for me to stay level-headed to understand where we’re at as a team, what we’re working on and what we’re working towards.”
South Africa’s three-wicket and 123-run losses in the first and second ODIs – both played at the Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein – could have easily gone the other way, according to Walter.
“There were moments in the first game, to be fair, we should have won. In the second game, if two guys converted their 40s, we would have come closer to winning that one as well,” he reflected.
“Losing is not everything, it doesn’t tell the full story. It’s about being able to pick apart the good stuff and understand the stuff we didn’t quite nail, and we just paid specific attention to that.”
However, the fact that the Proteas could win in varying ways, in different conditions – in Potchefstroom, Centurion and Johannesburg – in the final three ODIs reflects the versatility and adaptability of the side.
“The best part was we won games of cricket in different ways in this series,” the coach said. “We won the game in Potchefstroom with spin, we won the game at SuperSport Park with pace and [we] put it all together [in the final match at Centurion].
“There were really good signs right from the word go and we should have capitalised on at least one more win in the series.”
South Africa’s bowling left a lot to be desired during the early stages of Australia’s tour, while the three end-of-series victories were off the back of bowling the Aussies out before their allotted 50 overs.
A key man in this was spinner Keshav Maharaj, who returned to cricket for the first time since his horror Achilles tendon tear back in March.
The wily spin bowler picked up eight wickets at an average of 16.87 with an impressive economy rate of 4.07 across the four matches he played in the ODI series. In the only match Maharaj didn’t play, the second ODI, the Aussies walloped a mammoth 392.
On the batting front, South Africa have possibly the most menacing top six in the world. Each one of them averages above 40, while the lowest strike rates touch 90.
Temba Bavuma has a breathtaking way with the willow in the format as he continues his bright start to ODI cricket – the captain averages 54.7 in the format in 30 innings.
His opening partner, Quinton de Kock – who will retire from the format after the World Cup – found some sparkling form with the bat towards the end of the Aussie tour, as he finished in the top five run scorers.
The only slight concern for South Africa would be first-drop Rassie van der Dussen, who was the only batter who failed to get a big score this past series – his top score was 62, but averaged 29.25 across the series, with a strike rate of 79.05.
Heinrich Klaasen, meanwhile, was South Africa’s bright shining light with the bat, particularly with his career-best 174 off 83 deliveries that he struck at SuperSport Park in the fourth ODI.
The knock was terrifying in its ferocity and demonstrated his ability to win a match almost single-handedly.
All-rounders Marco Jansen and Aiden Markram are practically guaranteed a spot in the Proteas’ XI for every match at the upcoming World Cup by virtue of the fact that nobody else in the 15-player cohort is able to fulfil their dual responsibilities to the side.
Markram offers a sixth bowling option to skipper Bavuma while Jansen, despite being only 23 years old, is by far the best batter out of the eight World Cup bowlers selected.
The fact that both the all-rounders – who had question marks around ability in the format prior to the series – found form against the Aussies could not have worked out better for South Africa.
Markram ended the series with the third most runs across both sides with 225; his strike rate of 115.97 was equally impressive. He also struck his second career century in the third ODI with a sumptuous unbeaten 102 off only 74 deliveries.
For Jansen, it took a bit longer, but it all came together beautifully in the crunch final ODI at Wanderers Stadium. The lanky all-rounder struck a thunderous 47 off 23 balls and also took career-best figures of five wickets for 39 runs in eight overs.
South Africa’s top six batters can play with a level of freedom and positivity – as part of their new-found philosophy – knowing that their No 7 in Jansen is able to hold his own if the situation arises.
“I enjoy batting a lot more than bowling,” the soft-spoken all-rounder said. “In the nets, when I’m working on my batting, I actually enjoy it a lot more.
“Whenever I get the chance with the bat I try my utmost best and obviously with the ball I’m expected to take wickets, which is also perfectly fine, because that’s my primary role.”
The Proteas have two more warm-up games left, against Afghanistan on 29 September and New Zealand on 2 October, before the true test of their ability will take place from 7 October when they meet Sri Lanka at the Arun Jaitley Cricket Stadium in India for their first World Cup clash. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.