NEIL MANTHORP: Here’s hoping the Proteas will learn from their impressive winning streak
Now they just need to bag the games that really count
The SA men’s team have quietly put together one of the most impressive winning streaks in the history of T20 Internationals. Since beating the West Indies in the deciding game of a five-match series in Grenada in 2021, the Proteas have won 13 of their last 14 T20Is, a staggering ratio given the unpredictability of the format.
The one game they lost, to Australia, cost them a place in the T20 World Cup semifinals last year. They won four out of five games in the United Arab Emirates having swept aside Ireland and Sri Lanka 3-0 before that, both away from home. And today they will take a 2-0 lead into the third match of a five-match series against India in Visakhapatnam.
It is a quite remarkable achievement and one that will, no doubt, prompt some cynics to remind us that SA’s limited-overs teams have been doing this for more than two decades, ever since Bob Woolmer took over as coach — winning far more games than they lose but none of the ones that matter. Except, when you’re playing for your country every game matters. It’s just that World Cup games matter more.
Woolmer always said that teams could, and should, learn far more about themselves and each other as individuals during victory rather than defeat, especially where they need to improve. If this is true, then captain Temba Bavuma and head coach Mark Boucher have been gorging themselves with knowledge in the last 12 months.
They learnt from the Indian Premier League, too, where the ultimate champions, Gujarat Titans, used David Miller at No 5 rather than 6 where he has been “hidden” for much of his career, particularly during his 97 T20Is for SA. Now, finally, he is being sent in to bat when there are more than just a couple of overs remaining.
Including the final half dozen overs of Gujarat’s march to the title and the first two games of the current series, Miller — who holds the record for the most international white-ball internationals without a single Test cap — has finished unbeaten on six occasions while scoring 265 runs from 155 balls at a strike rate of 170. It compares with any of the hottest streaks of “finishing” ever.
It is a joy to see Wayne Parnell back in international cricket. He said the decision to give up his international career in 2017 at the age of just 28 was the hardest of his life but the subsequent five years playing hundreds of county matches in England have made him a far better, wiser and even more skilful cricketer.
The abolition of Kolpak contracts gave him a second chance and he is grabbing it not with the fearlessness of youth that tripped him up before, but with the confidence of a man who trusts his talent and now has an important perspective. Parnell regularly bowls one of the riskiest deliveries in T20 cricket — the slower ball yorker. He is as close as anybody has ever come to mastering it precisely because he embraces the worst-case scenario of being hit for six — nobody will be left injured or homeless — and he might just pick up another wicket.
But if Parnell’s bowling is seen as high-risk, high-reward, it is rock solid pension trust fund compared to Rassie van der Dussen’s approach to batting. He spent two-thirds of his innings in the first game in Delhi losing the match before exploding in a crescendo of sixes to win it with five balls to spare.
Chasing a record target of 212, Van der Dussen came to the crease at 61/2 at the end of the power-play and limped to 29 off 31 balls with the required rate climbing to more than 14 runs per over despite Miller scoring at two runs per ball at the other end. Van der Dussen then hit a straightforward catch to long on — and was dropped. He celebrated this moment of good fortune by taking 22 off the over and scoring an eye-watering 45 runs from the next 14 balls he faced. If the catch had been taken it would have left debutant Tristan Stubbs with an all but impossible task.
At the World Cup last year Van der Dussen scored 22 off 27 balls chasing 84 to win against Bangladesh. It contributed to SA’s net run rate dipping below Australia’s and they needed to beat England by an almost impossible 50 runs in their final game to reach the semis.
Van der Dussen was made man-of-the-match for his unbeaten 94 from 60 balls yet, at the end of the power-play he was a gentle 21* from 15 balls and a modest 35 not out from 28 balls after 10 overs. “Imagine what he might have scored if he’d shown a little more urgency early on,” a former national captain asked, of nobody in particular.
Rassie is from the “that’s the way I play …” camp. Fair enough. As long as he keeps winning more games than he loses. But winning time is learning time and there’s always room for improvement.
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