The nature of T20 cricket makes it difficult for new players to make their mark, but Proteas batting coach Neil McKenzie has praised the way they’ve stepped up.
It’s do or die for the Proteas as they go into the third T20 against Sri Lanka at Newlands looking to seal the series, after the tourists levelled matters by the narrowest of margins at the Wanderers on Sunday.
Farhaan Behardien’s charges won the rain-reduced, 10-over contest comfortably in the first match at Centurion, but the second, in what was arguably in conditions more suited to the Sri Lankans, went to the wire. McKenzie, chatting exclusively to SACricketmag.com, lamented the Wanderers track, but still believes his side should have closed it out.
‘We were obviously disappointed to lose at the Wanderers, even though it wasn’t the wicket we were expecting,’ says McKenzie. ‘If Sri Lanka could choose a surface, that would have been it. Having said that, we should be winning in all conditions.’
The fact that the hosts easily won the first game and came close to winning the second in difficult conditions, just goes to show the impact the new caps in the side made. There were no less than five debutants in the first T20, with all five of them keeping their place for the second encounter. Lungi Ngidi was the biggest revelation, sealing the Man of the Match award on debut before ripping apart the top order in Joburg with 4-19.
AB de Villiers’ return means one of them is likely to miss out, but they’ve all played their part.
‘We’ve got a young side that we’re blooding and giving opportunities to, and all the guys are dead keen and have been performing too,’ says McKenzie. ‘They all bring something different and it just shows that there’s a lot of talent and competition for places. The nature of T20s are rushed and harsh and you don’t get many opportunities to perform, but the guys have done really well.’
The regular and more senior members of the side have been performing well in the longer formats as well, which Mckenzie puts down to a culture in the Proteas camp that centres around staunch preparation and mental toughness.
‘I just think they’re quality players with established careers,’ Mckenzie says when asked about the likes of JP Duminy and Stephen Cook returning to form. ‘They’ve been around a while, but a lot of preparation has gone into it, and the hunger is there too.
‘The players have wanted the management staff to ask more questions of them, and we’ve responded. We’ve upped our mental toughness and we don’t give them an inch in practice. Everyone wants to play at the highest level and it’s been reflected in training,’ he concludes.
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