Keep those shades on, boys, this World Cup could be good
What would a 5-0 thrashing of Sri Lanka tell SA about their readiness? The future might just be bright
SA’s one-day series victory over Sri Lanka is their ninth in 11 bilateral rubbers in the format, a story of success in which they have piled up 33 wins in 47 matches.
They have won at home, and in New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Australia, and they would seem to have every chance of sealing a 5-0 greenwash over the Lankans at Newlands on Saturday.
That would be the fifth entry on a list of unblemished triumphs that features likely suspects Zimbabwe and Bangladesh but also proper teams like Australia.
Saturday’s game is SA’s last competitive assignment before a World Cup that will start not quite 11 weeks hence. What have they learnt in the process of teaching the visitors, who came into the series having handed the home side a lesson in Test cricket, how to play the white-ball version?
Not a lot besides what they know about their own strengths and weaknesses already, although it always helps to know if those goalposts have stayed where you put them.
So, next stop the Oval, where SA will play England on May 30 in the World Cup opener. All good. A team sporting a recent 70.23% success rate could hardly be better prepared, surely …
Excluded from the above, because it wasn’t a bilateral affair, is the 2017 Champions Trophy – which was also played in England, and at around the same time of the year and so in likely similar conditions. And in which SA crashed and burned. They dealt easily enough with Sri Lanka but then ran out of runs against Pakistan and India and endured Gary Kirsten, in his last game as coach, telling them they choked.
On top of that, the two exceptions in SA’s 11 series of otherwise untrammelled victories were away against England just before the Champions Trophy and at home to India in February last year.
And, inconveniently, England and India are also clear favourites to win the World Cup.
India have had a marginally better record than SA since the 2017 Champions Trophy, winning 38 of their 54 ODIs. England, who have won 23 of 34, have been slightly less successful.
Less measurable is what happens inside the dressing room, and it’s there where the World Cup will be won or lost as much as it is on the field. Once the players disappear from view there are no stats to lean on to ponder if all is as it should be. But there are lines to read between.
“I felt like I’ve got a lot of freedom to do what I want to do,” Anrich Nortjé told reporters at St George’s Park on Wednesday after doing his bit as SA went 4-0 up by winning by six wickets with 17.1 overs to spare.
“I can play my part the way I do it. I don’t have to follow in anyone else’s footsteps – the way someone else, Dale [Steyn] or Kagiso [Rabada] does it. Obviously margins are smaller and plans will be different [than at domestic level], but to bring the way I play cricket into the team has been so easy to do.”
That’s a bulletproof endorsement for how Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson are going about their business, and making sure those in their charge go about theirs. Doing so at home against opponents who have not brought much to the party can only be easier than trying to stay calm in the glare of a World Cup.
Even so, the future might just be bright. Whoever goes to the World Cup, remember to pack your shades.