The Proteas’ fightback has begun with the 1-0 home test series win over New Zealand. They will face far greater challenges when they travel to Australia in November and when they host a resurgent Sri Lanka side in December.
It remains to be seen if SA can win those series and climb the test rankings over the next few months.
Right now, in the wake of the Proteas’ series victory against New Zealand, SA fans should be happy with the team’s positive start to the 2016/2017 season and encouraged by the form of many individual players.
The most significant performance in the recent test series was that of Dale Steyn. SA’s premier fast bowler missed six of the Proteas’ eight tests last season due to injuries, and many started to wonder if the 33-year-old would ever recover his fitness and form.
In the first test against New Zealand in Durban, Steyn answered his critics with a fierce spell of fast bowling that yielded the wickets of openers Martin Guptill and Tom Latham. Steyn moved up a gear in the second and decisive match at Centurion, exploiting the conditions to claim eight wickets.
That latter performance put him on 416 test wickets, just behind Shaun Pollock’s SA record of 421. You wouldn’t bet against Steyn taking another six wickets on the tour Down Under to surpass Pollock.
It bodes well for the Proteas that Steyn appears to be building towards his best form ahead of that three-test series in Australia. What’s more, the eight-wicket haul at Centurion boosted him to the top of the ICC test bowling rankings.
Steyn and Vernon Philander were a handful on a lively track at Centurion. One would expect them to be a factor on the quick pitches in Australia. The Proteas should have a number of options with Kagiso Rabada and Morné Morkel set to feature after missing the recent clash against the Kiwis. Chris Morris and spinner Dane Piedt will also add value.
Collectively, the SA batsmen fronted up against New Zealand in the recent two-test series. The Proteas didn’t enjoy the best start in the first test, posting 263 runs in the first innings.
The hosts were perhaps fortunate that that game was eventually rained out. In the second test, however, they rallied to post 481 in the first innings, a total that put SA on the front foot. The Proteas went on to secure a 204-run victory. The result marked their second win in 12 test matches, and more importantly, their first test series victory in 19 months.
Quinton de Kock filled in for the injured Dean Elgar to open the batting in the second test, and enjoyed immediate success. De Kock scored 82 in the first innings and 50 in the second to become the first SA wicketkeeper to score two half centuries in the same test.
Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma and JP Duminy all scored runs and will take some confidence into the next series.
One must also remember that the batting lineup will be bolstered when AB de Villiers returns. He missed the two tests against New Zealand due to an elbow injury.