DURBAN – The starters against England were a bit under done, but now for the main course. South Africa’s long and winding search for ICC supremacy has taken its latest stop, and they hope to return to The Oval in a fortnight, to contest the Champions Trophy final.
On Saturday, the Proteas lock horns with Sri Lanka in a Group B clash, and then there are four increasingly steeper steps between them and the just desserts of victory. No one in the South African camp is looking that far, because history has taught them not to get ahead of themselves.
Before they look at the unpredictability of Pakistan, the might of India, and the squeaky-bum arena that is the semi-finals, they have to get past a Sri Lankan team that has lost much of its tournament mongrel of years gone by.
Gone is the timeless grace of Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene, and the mystery of Muttiah Muralitharan. They are, of course, irreplaceable, and the new generation has an awful lot to live up to.
That is not South Africa’s concern, though, and AB de Villiers and his men are looking to build up a head of steam.
“We are peaking at the right time,” skipper De Villiers declared, at the captain’s pre-match press conference on Friday.
In that bullish spirit, De Villiers revealed that the team would be going for the jugular with the ball, and looking to make an immediate impression.
“We have an opportunity to bowl this Sri Lankan side out, so to me it’s really important to get your top three bowlers in there,” he said of the potential make-up of his side.
That line of thinking would suggest that Morne Morkel is now in the inside lane to join Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris in the starting line-up, to be supplemented by one of Dwaine Pretorius, Wayne Parnell or Andile Phehlukwayo.
“That is a difficult decision,” De Villiers said.
For much of their summer, South Africa leant on their rash of all-rounders, and they did the job against New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka. But, they were confronted by a bullish England, and the need for specialists has now become apparent, especially with the stakes so high.
“Not that all-rounders can’t do a job, but I’d be leaning towards getting our best bowlers in there,” De Villiers continued.
It is all a juggling act, and De Villiers the leader has to be comfortable with the unit he takes out on the field. There is no room for doubt, as the Champions Trophy chucks you out to the wilderness no sooner than it welcomes you into the fold.
The onus is on being ruthless, and there is a premium on decisive leadership. De Villiers maintains that he is up to the task.
“Being captain has its challenges, but I’ve done it for a while and I feel comfortable,” he said of leading his country.
Besides, as he pointed out, there are more than enough chefs in the Proteas’ kitchen.
“We’ve got four or five leaders in the side, and we all have a right to have our say. The culture we’ve created allows me to do my thing.”
That ‘thing’ which De Villiers refers to is to be the destructive player that South Africa need for the big games – which means every contest in this tournament. He has shown flickers of form, and the hope in camp is that he build that up, and then hits the afterburners in the final week.
There is a lot on his plate, but he is not head chef in the team for nothing.
Happily, he has a full pantry of ingredients, with David Miller and Imran Tahir both passed fit for the opening match.
Play starts at midday South African time, with coverage on Supersport 2 from 11am.