South Africa's upward curve raises World T20 hopes

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‘Series wins give us confidence before World T20’

From a wide angle, South Africa’s summer has not been as successful as they would have hoped. They lost the Test series against England and with it their No.1 ranking. But zoom in and you will understand why they smiling at the end. 

Whisper it, because of course a global event is looming, but in the ODI and T20 series, they have shown they can handle pressure. They came from 2-0 down in the ODIs to win 3-2 and won both T20 matches to finish England’s visit with five successive wins. That all of them were achieved chasing, the area of the game where South Africa are known to be soft, and two of them – the Wanderers ODI and Cape Town T20 – became nail-biters only makes it sweeter. 

South Africa now have reason to be confident they can do it again, when it really matters, at a major tournament. “From a mental point of view, it’s great,” Faf du Plessis said afterwards. And from an immediate point of view, it has allowed South Africa to rescue a summer in which they were dictated to by a team they may have felt they could have had the better off.

“We felt if we could land a good punch on the English team, they might disappear – and that’s what happened,” du Plessis said, referring to England’s final match of a long tour.

South Africa may actually have felt that way over much of the last two months but they have only really been able to land proper blows in the last two weeks when, perhaps jolted by the reality that they could lose a home Test and ODI series for the first time in 14 years, they made real changes. 

In the personnel department, South Africa have reinvested in genuine allrounders. Chris Morris, who featured across all three formats against England, has an opportunity to establish himself as a regular. David Wiese is also in the fray and JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien have been left to focus on their batting, which Duminy especially needs to do. As a result, South Africa have restored some balance to an XI that had become skewed. 

That’s not say South Africa have answered all the questions. Not everyone in the line-up is performing as they should. Apart from Duminy and Behardien, Rilee Rossouw, albeit with limited opportunities, also needs more consistency. Leaving it to Morris to perform last-minute, million-dollar-man heroics is exciting but not ideal and in the shortest format, there is still a conundrum over Quinton de Kock

Hashim Amla’s form against England means it could be difficult for Quinton de Kock to find a starting place © Getty Images

Hashim Amla is close to his best, after battling through a lean patch, and showed his ability to score as quickly and destructively as anyone else at the Wanderers. With AB de Villiers now being given the chance of a full 20 overs, de Kock, despite prolific form in ODIs, could miss out. Nonetheless, it’s a problem South Africa are happy to have. 

“It’s not a headache, it’s great to have options,” du Plessis said. “I’d like to have AB to the top so there is only one spot.”

Who gets that one spot could depend on how things go against Australia early next month. Those three matches will also be crucial for solving another dilemma. Dale Steyn should return and if he does, fitting him into an attack that has done well without him could be tricky. Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada have shown their quality, particularly at the death, and with the two allrounders and a specialist spinner a necessity, one of them will have to be left out to get Steyn in. 

Given the praise du Plessis has heaped on his bowlers and the fact that not so long ago South Africa did not have someone who could reliably contain at the end of an innings, it is difficult to decide who that could be.

“To bring it back like we did with those seven wickets is unheard of in Twenty20 cricket,” du Plessis said, referring to England’s decisive collapse. “That’s something we pride ourselves on now, having great options at the death.” 

The variation in their squad is why du Plessis believes they “are not weak in any area,” as they approach the World T20. South Africa’s recent record which includes eight wins in nine games and series victories over Bangladesh, India and England, makes it difficult to argue with that and easy to see why they may start to be spoken of as serious contenders for the title. 

Du Plessis was careful not get too carried away, especially as the T20s came at the end of a long tour for England but was equally calculating in reminding them when they will meet South Africa again – in just a few weeks time.

“It’s always tough when you’re playing your last game, you’re already thinking about going home and you’re 1-0 down in the series,” he said. “But for us, you always want to imprint something on a team, so that when they meet you again, they will remember the result.” 

So for now, it’s goodbye England. Thanks for a great summer and see you again on March 18 in Mumbai.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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