With the majority of the international summer season spent looking for signs that didn’t come, the Proteas find themselves in a position to fashion a result they couldn’t have expected in today’s third and final ODI against England at Wanderers Stadium.
For a while, the Proteas had been looking for evidence that they were emerging from a rotten run of form last year, which saw them unable to buy a win in tests and enduring their worst World Cup in history.
But, by losing the four-test series against England 3-1 after the false dawn of winning the first, they can’t have expected to be the ones with their nose ahead going into the third and final ODI – also known as the Pink ODI – in Johannesburg today.
The reasons Quinton de Kock and his men find themselves on the brink of winning a series in the format at which the opponents are the world champions are a convincing win in the first game and a rained-off second match in Durban (where else?), in which the hosts were marooned on 71/2 when the umpires tapped out to the elements.
That today’s occasion is also the Pink ODI – a fixture the Proteas have lost just once in eight matches – should encourage the locals to finally win something this summer – before the T20 series commences on February 12 and the Australian juggernaut rolls into town for more white-ball cricket.
Critical to the Proteas winning the series will be top-order batsmen De Kock and the unlikely figure of Temba Bavuma, who scored 107 and 98, respectively, in guiding South Africa to a near-nerveless chase of the 259-run target they were set in the first ODI at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town.
De Kock has risen to the twin challenges of the cares of captaincy and the tone-setting burden of being the wicketkeeper and the team’s opening batsman, playing fluently in a record second wicket partnership with Bavuma.
Just a year ago, Bavuma was considered a red-ball specialist by the national selectors, a notion he must have consigned to the dustbins of their memory with his chanceless 98.
His failure to convert that half-century into a hundred – an issue in a test career that has only yielded that iconic ton from 67 innings – will rankle, but the way he chipped and charged, finessed and bludgeoned his way to a well-judged 98 hinted at a solution for the number three batting slot.
On the selection front, it will be interesting to see if Lions spinner and lower-order batsman Bjorn Fortuin will be rewarded by being picked after his intended debut in Durban fizzled out without his getting anywhere near the field.
The catch is that, while the selectors were keen to play two spinners – the other being the irrepressible Tabraiz Shamsi, in Durban because of how that wicket has taken spin in the domestic competition – one can’t see that being the case at Wanderers.
De Kock being named skipper raises the question of whether Faf du Plessis will take the team to the T20 World Cup
Looking ahead to the T20 series – which begins at Buffalo Park in East London on Wednesday, takes in Valentine’s Day in Durban (bring a brolly) and concludes in Centurion on Sunday – De Kock has been named captain, while Dale Steyn has been recalled, with Sisanda Magala and Pite van Biljon in line to make their debuts.
De Kock being named skipper raises the question of whether Faf du Plessis will take the team to the T20 World Cup in Australia later in the year like he wants to; Steyn makes his return after almost a year out; Magala, after not meeting the conditioning metrics for the ODI series, has been deemed to be in the right nick to play the shortest format; while Van Biljon is rewarded for consistency domestically.