Proteas still have work to do but ...
Cricket: Bold new spirit has emerged
The Proteas are not the finished article. Many, including test captain Faf du Plessis, have made this point in the wake of SA’s emphatic series victory over Sri Lanka.
SA cricket fans have good reason to smile following convincing series wins against New Zealand, Australia and now Sri Lanka. Indeed, this is a very different Proteas side to the one that struggled against India and England some 12 months ago.
Those were dark days for SA cricket. In 2015 the Proteas suffered a crushing World Cup semifinal exit as well as a humiliating 3-0 test series defeat to India. And 2016 began with a painful loss at the Wanderers. The latter result signified a series defeat to England as well as the end of the Proteas’ reign as the No 1 test team in the world. Subsequently, they were ranked as low as seventh on the International Cricket Council (ICC) ladder.
Du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada featured in the Proteas XI on that day in January 2016. Almost a year later, these players formed part of the XI that smashed Sri Lanka by an innings and 118 runs at the Wanderers. With that, they completed a 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka and extended their streak of test series victories to three. At this stage, they are third in the ICC test rankings.
Evidently, SA have addressed their batting issues over the past six months or so. Elgar and Stephen Cook recorded two century stands and averaged 64 for the first wicket in the series against Sri Lanka. Elgar was named man of the series after scoring 308 runs at an average of 61.6. Those performances set SA up for some big totals that put Sri Lanka under pressure.
JP Duminy had a sublime knock of 155 at the Wanderers, while Amla, a crucial figure during this transition period, quieted the critics with an innings of 134. Down the order, explosive batsman Quinton de Kock was as entertaining as he was effective. Rabada (19 wickets) and Vernon Philander (17) were the chief destroyers with the ball for SA in the three tests.
But the stats don’t tell the whole story about the Proteas’ progress. There’s a new spirit and attitude about this side. There’s a sense of determination with the bat, ball and in the field that was lacking 12 months ago.
Du Plessis has thrived in his role as test captain, a role which became permanent in the series against Sri Lanka. On the field, he hasn’t been afraid to make tough calls. Off the field, he has called a spade a spade. Du Plessis has said that the Proteas are not the finished article and that they have much to do if they are going to win the big series in England later this year.
The Proteas’ test side will be boosted by the return of Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel. It remains to be seen whether AB de Villiers will resume his test career after recovering from his own injury. He has already committed to leading the Proteas in this year’s ICC Champions Trophy and, if all goes to plan, in the 2019 World Cup. His future as a test player, however, remains in doubt. The 32-year-old may well decide to focus on limited-overs cricket from here on in.