India vs South Africa 2020: The march of the Proteas
- The 12th of March has almost mythical properties in South African cricket. This one could signal the beginning of something special!
The last time South Africa played a One Day International (ODI) series in India, they equalled their record highest score of 438 in the deciding fifth and final game. On that carnage-filled day, AB de Villiers scored 119 off 61 deliveries to complete the demolition which had been set up with centuries by Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis.
It is quite fitting then that the South Africa-India ODI series starts on the 12th of March, the very same day in which the Proteas first scored 438. That was of course in 2006, when they successfully chased down a world-record 435 target set by the Australians. It speaks volumes for the freak nature of the chase that even as scores have inflated, there hasn't been a single chase even in the same area code as that one. The closest anyone has come was when David Miller penned an incredible century to help South Africa chase 372 against the Australians.
The early ambers of the Protea Fire
Part of the symmetry behind that date is that then, as now, South Africa was in the middle of a rebuild. They were in the middle of a home-away Test series coupe with Australia which they lost by a combined score of 5-0. Not too dissimilar from the current lot who have lost eight of their last nine Tests. Then, they had a young AB de Villiers, acknowledged as a generational talent, but mostly without the substance. Yes, he had scored over 1000 Test runs in 2005 at an average over 50, but that had been buffeted by facing an insipid West Indies on some of the flattest tracks in cricket history. He had yet to score an ODI century at the time. He'd have to wait until the 2007 World Cup to take his helmet off in coloured clothing. Dale Steyn had barely played a handful of ODI games and Hashim Amla was barely thought of as an international cricketer, let alone a record-breaking ODI batsman. That is, Amla had not even played a One Day International.
Also see – CSK squad
The future is now
This time, South Africa has a relatively inexperienced ODI captain in Quinton de Kock. De Kock has been quite impressive in his first summer as the full-time captain, with four wins in six games. More importantly, for a side that started the summer out as one entirely dependent on him, they won their last three games of the summer with the captain contributing 41 runs in the series. They've achieved this thanks to impressive contributions from David Miller and lesser names. Miller has scored 173 runs this summer for one dismissal at a strike rate of 110. While Miller has anchored the tail-end of the innings, the top of the show has seen some new faces shine. After making his bow in international cricket with a first-ball duck,
Janneman Malan returned to the lab and created a series-winning century the very next innings. Heinrich Klaasen, who had struggled as the closer South Africa desperately wanted, looks a man reborn batting slightly up the order. Kyle Verreynne has yet to pen an innings of great substance, but he has had starts in every game he's played and serves as a possible back-up wicket-keeper in the matchday XI (as does Klaasen).
The bowling attack which took the Australians apart was short of experience, but it made up for it with tearaway pace from the likes of Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje, who seems to challenge that 150kph mark with every delivery he bowls. Both Ngidi and Nortje average two wickets a game in their rather young careers, which has meant that while they can both be on the expensive side from time to time, the opposition is constantly losing wickets. This was complemented with wily spin bowling by the left-arm duo of Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi. In his first summer as the de facto #1 spinner in South Africa, Shamsi has been very economical (4.87) while chipping in with more than the odd wicket (seven in five games). Similarly, while Maharaj has only taken one wicket in three games this summer, his economy rate (4.86) has effectively choked up the opposition in the middle overs. It has been a long time since a South African ODI team could be said to fill in all the boxes needed to make a great team, but this set up has the top order right, it has an explosive middle-order, and the bowling attack is both varied and consistent.
There are no guarantees in sports, and touring India is as hard an ask as any in world cricket. Certainly, it is a much harder task than facing a hapless Australian ODI side... but this has the makings of an all-time great South African ODI team, and on the 12th of March, they can begin their ascent to greatness.
Published 12 Mar 2020, 02:45 IST