There is reason for reflection as well as celebration after South Africa’s successful run chase against Australia in Harare on Wednesday.
The Proteas will play against Australia in the final of this triangular series. While this is yet to be confirmed, it’s highly unlikely that Zimbabwe will feature in the decider on 6 September.
South Africa will face Australia, and there will be more at stake than a trophy. It’s important that the Proteas win consistently in the build up to the 2015 World Cup, but results aren’t as important as addressing their shortcomings.
Indeed, while they will be pushed hard by Australia in the coming months, they should be expected to beat New Zealand and the West Indies whether they play to their potential or not. Their task in the buildup to the global tournament is to develop a balanced unit that can achieve the necessary results.
The series in Australia in November will serve as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, as the tournament will be staged in the same conditions. But don’t underestimate the value of the current exercise in Zimbabwe. The trophy may be meaningless, but there is still plenty to gain from this experience.
In recent seasons, South Africa have battled to chase down a target. For this reason, their surpassing of Australia’s 327 total must be viewed as significant. It will give them confidence, regardless of the fact that the Aussies bowled poorly and the pitch was flat. It still took some excellent batting to get there, especially after losing two wickets in the first nine overs.
While Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla didn’t contribute big scores, they got their runs at a quick rate. Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers then did the right thing to consolidate. The switch to an audacious assault towards the end of the innings was something to behold.
De Villiers played some innovative and effective strokes, and did so for the most part on one leg. We’ve known for a long time that the Proteas’ World Cup hopes will hinge on the skipper, a player capable of taking the game away from the opposition. The recent innings in Harare was affirmation.
What we haven’t seen enough of is Du Plessis, at least this ODI version of him that dominates opposition bowlers. Australia didn’t bowl well and the track was true, but Du Plessis must receive credit for punishing the bowlers accordingly.
There will be more tests for this side before the World Cup. They will be required to chase some big totals. But having got over the line in Harare, against one of the best teams on the planet, they should no longer fear the chase. They surpassed 327 with seven wickets still intact. It’s a big moment in their development.
Of course, one has to question why they were forced to chase such a total in the first place. While many of the South African batsmen are in form, the bowling unit is struggling.
Dale Steyn didn’t have the desired impact, and disappointingly, no other seamer stepped into the breach. Morné Morkel and Ryan McLaren went for six-plus an over, while Wayne Parnell was at his inconsistent worst. The pick of the bowlers was Imran Tahir, and while it seems his Test career is over, recent performances in the ODI arena suggest that the leg-spinner will have an important role to play at the 2015 World Cup.
The Proteas won by seven wickets on Wednesday, but there were as many reasons for reflection as there were for celebration. It was encouraging to see the batsmen showing mettle and innovation, but it was disappointing to see the bowlers lacking both yet again.