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Aiden Markram during the South Africa men's national cricket team training session at Wankhede Stadium on Monday in Mumbai, India. Picture: Pankaj Nangia/Gallo Images
Aiden Markram during the South Africa men's national cricket team training session at Wankhede Stadium on Monday in Mumbai, India. Picture: Pankaj Nangia/Gallo Images

It may not be possible to measure statistically, but seasoned World Cup historians are united on the likelihood that a greater disparity in consecutive performances than SA’s last two matches has not existed since the tournament’s first edition in 1975. Certainly when measured by results.

Losing to the Netherlands by any margin was unexpected, but 38 runs constituted a solid beating. Four days later the Proteas gave defending champions England the greatest hiding (by 229 runs) in their 52-year limited-overs history and scored more runs (399/7) than any other team had ever managed.

It makes it tricky to predict what might happen when they return to action for their fifth match against Bangladesh on Tuesday at the same high-scoring Wankhede Stadium at which they have scored 438/4 (against India in 2015) and 399/7 on Saturday. Add the recent results between the teams that have seen them take an equal share, five each of the last 10 ODIs.

“They’ve become a really good white-ball team and when you put them into subcontinent conditions they become even more dangerous,” Aiden Markram said on Monday. “You can never take form, as an individual or as a team, for granted so we’ll be coming with confidence but also the knowledge that we’re going to have to be on top of our game to get the right result.

“We haven’t done particularly well against them in the past so that’s extra motivation for us to come out and replicate the performance against England,” Markram said. The next three fixtures are against Pakistan, in spin-friendly Chennai, and table-toppers New Zealand and India. A victory against Bangladesh would go a long way to mitigate a slip-up in the next 11 days.   

The only mystery in the Proteas camp at the moment concerns the wellbeing of captain Temba Bavuma, for whom Markram deputised as captain on Saturday and as Monday’s spokesman.

Reeza Hendricks performed remarkably as his replacement at the top of the order, scoring 85 from only 75 balls despite being given just 10 minutes’ notice before the toss that he would be playing. Bavuma, by most accounts, kept his feverish condition to himself in the belief that he would shake it off during warm-ups. It was a peculiar decision not to place Hendricks at least on stand-by. 

“Temba is definitely improving and they’re going to make a final call on his fitness tomorrow, but he is at least in better spirits,” Markram said. 

Sports lovers might be wondering whether the SA cricketers in India are aware that most of the nation’s attention is focused on the rugby players in France. Yes, they are. Does this bother the cricketers? No!

“We’re following the rugby as closely as everyone else ...  it is a distraction for us but a good distraction,” Markram said, grinning broadly. “We’re making all the time we need to watch all their games because the hype is around them at the moment, and rightly so.

“They are doing some special things as a team once again, and that inspires us.  We’re trying not to focus too much on outside ‘noise’ but we are certainly trying to take motivation and inspiration from them. That performance from them to get to another final provided us with a bit more oomph for tomorrow’s game and the rest of our campaign,” Markram said.

Asked whether the Bangla Tigers might be “ripe for the taking” after a disappointing tournament and just one victory from their four matches, a wise Markram replied: “There’s never a perfect time to meet anyone. We’ve all seen already that anyone can beat anyone else on a given day and if you don’t respect that fact then the game of cricket can really hurt you.”

Meanwhile, Heinrich Klaasen has been working overtime to recover from his exertions on Saturday when he scored a mighty 109 from 67 balls, pushing himself to breaking point during an astonishing stand of 151 with Marco Jansen, who belted an equally exhilarating career-best 75 not out from just 42 balls.

“He was certainly man-down in conditions that were brutal. He did a lot of hard work out there and it took a lot out of him. His body was very sore after the game and he was pretty fatigued,” Markram said. “He spent the last couple of days getting treatment and resting, but you’ll do well to keep him off a cricket field — he’s a tough guy. He’ll be itching to go again,” Markram said.

What, exactly, does the recovery process entail? “Nutrition, massages, checking in with the physio, all things are quite important. But a lot of sleep, that’s one of the most important things — and fortunately it’s quite easy to do.”

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