The Proteas’ version of Idols – also known as their search for an all-rounder to fill the troublesome number seven spot, a back-up batsman and fast bowler for this year’s World Cup squad – moves to Johannesburg today to the fourth one-day international, the popular “Pink ODI”, against Pakistan.
Faf du Plessis’ men predictably lead the five-match series 2-1, but it would be stretching it to suggest the achievement of those results has been business as usual.
Pakistan went one-nil ahead in the first game after slow batting by the hosts before the Proteas drew level, thanks to a run-chase for the ages, and pulled ahead after great management of the rain in Centurion on Friday.
While nothing annoys a South African sports fan more than a victory that is not a procession, there have already been some invaluable lessons, not to mention practise, for the hosts in the series with the World Cup in mind.
Port Elizabeth was about batting for your strike rate, not your milestone or average; Durban showed that they can stay calm in a tough run chase; and Centurion was continuing to fix the Proteas’ troublesome relationship with rain-affected games, the aside being the importance of taking your catches if you don’t consistently want to chase more than 300 at the World Cup.
While the team lessons are coming along nicely, it would be pushing it to suggest everything has been smoothed over at individual level.
Du Plessis suggested the World Cup squad was at 90%, the question marks being the aforementioned places for which there has been a kind of audition.
Andile Phehlukwayo’s performance in Durban, which featured bowling figures of 4/22 and a career best 69 not out, went some way towards locking down the number seven spot.
Forget the bowling – it was the memorable run chase with the so-called rookie (he’s certainly not playing like one) Rassie van der Dussen that had the hallmarks of a solution for that position.
This was probably the fifth time Phehlukwayo has played the role, meaning he does it more often than people realise.
The refrain to support why Phehlukwayo should bat a place lower is based on his inconsistency at being a patron saint of lost causes.
It’s an argument that sounds, well, sound until you consider the mentality that is required in that finishing position.
You have to be prepared to take chances, have a stomach for the fight and not go into your shell when the heat is on, which is exactly what “Lucky” is.
Van der Dussen’s introduction has complicated what was supposed to be a straight fight for a position between Reeza Hendricks and Aiden Markram.
With Hendricks, Friday’s man of the match for a calculated 83 not out that enabled the hosts to win on the Duckworth-Lewis method, warming to his task with calm performances, Markram suddenly finds himself in a shoot-out with Van der Dussen.
By scoring 93 on debut in Port Elizabeth and following it up with 80 not out in the seemingly lost cause in Durban, Van der Dussen has shown the requisite steel in taking his chances from the very beginning, not to mention under pressure.
With Hashim Amla doing just enough to keep the selectors interested at the moment, even though his fielding is starting to resemble that of a middle-aged man, it is Markram – he of the bright but unfulfilled starts and stupendous fielding feats – who needs all the runs he can get when he gets his chance to impress.
The need for a back-up fast bowler has roped in Dane Paterson, Duanne Olivier and now Beuran Hendricks.
Based on domestic performances, Paterson’s probably the best candidate, but it appears he needs more time than he has to make an impact, while Olivier found out the hard way that, with the protection batsmen have in ODIs, running in hard and banging it short doesn’t really work.
Which leaves us with Hendricks, who is restored to full fitness, bowls quickly enough, is possessed with all the variations in the book and, crucially, offers the Proteas the one thing they don’t have in their attack – a left-arm seamer.
The Idols search continues.