The Proteas thrashed Australia without seven first-choice players. They have every reason to celebrate.
Australia have a depleted bowling attack for this series. This has been well-documented now. I don’t know if they regret not bringing Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. But what I do know is that they hate losing, and they will be scarred by the beating they’ve taken in this series.
What’s perhaps worse than their decision to rest these players is the way in which they’ve utilised their new caps. Asking three debutants, Daniel Worrall, Chris Tremain and Joe Mennie, to fit into a system with very little experience around them is hard enough. Ruthlessly dropping them after one poor performance, which has happened to at least one of them every time so far, might leave them wondering why they were invited in the first place.
I’ve stated in all of my match reports so far that the Proteas have beaten a depleted Australian side. Perhaps I should have given more thought to who the Proteas are actually missing themselves. Their skipper, AB de Villiers, is enough of a blow. Slowly but surely, though, other players have limped out as the series has progressed. Chris Morris was ruled out on the eve of the series. Hashim Amla missed the first two. Wayne Parnell was then injured after two matches. Then Kingsmead centurion David Miller was ruled out. On top of this, albeit with the series wrapped up, they decided to give a rest to Imran Tahir, Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn. That’s seven first-choice players left out, eight if you include Amla!
The Proteas have every reason to celebrate thrashing the Aussies in this series, because the replacements have stepped up admirably and clinically. Rilee Rossouw struck fifties in the first two games and has subsequently been selected for the Test series Down Under. Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius have done everything that’s been asked of them. Kyle Abbott, Tabraiz Shamsi and Aaron Phangiso, all playing in their first match of the series on Sunday, took nine wickets between them.
Compare that to the Australian replacements, and you had combined figures of 1-351 from the first three games from the three uncapped players. They needed the batting to come right, but the usually dependable Steve Smith and David Warner have been inconsistent, and Aaron Finch and George Bailey have been woefully out of touch.
A shout out must go to Faf du Plessis as well, who has filled in as skipper outstandingly. Not only has he scored big runs, but he’s made all the right calls on the field, and he’s not been shy to speak his mind in aid of his teammates (he openly revealed his frustrations at Amla’s omission from the second ODI.) He celebrated the wickets more than anyone else on Sunday. The passion and heart is there, and the camaraderie is too.
If the Proteas complete the historic whitewash, they will be just two ranking points behind the world champions. That will be the smallest points difference between any of the elite teams in the rankings. You might consider this trivial. You’ll probably argue that the Proteas need to do this ‘when it matters’. Fair enough, they need to do this consistently and next year’s Champions Trophy is what really matters in the bigger picture. But a No 2 ranking, considering all of the recent despair of the Proteas sliding down the rankings, is a huge confidence booster. Now it must continue.
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