DURBAN – When they land in Sydney this week, Faf du Plessis and his Proteas one-day international squad can expect the sort of welcome reserved for Ashes touring sides. They will be confronted as soon as the gates open, and that will not relent when the opening press conference kicks off.
More’s the pity that this is only a limited trip, in overs and in significance.
On the back of the events that precipitated our autumn, a return Test series would have been a hot ticket to sell, especially after the stairs of Durban, the shoulder in Port Elizabeth, the shame of Newlands, and the massacre at the Bullring.
Yes, that still lingers, even if half a year and an entire cricket culture has passed since then. Though everyone may have moved on, Australia will be desperately keen to put a hit on South Africa, even if it may be well after the fact.
The Proteas have pre-empted the frosty welcome, and sent out their strongest possible combination.
This is not Zimbabwe. It is a short, sharp hit of adrenalin against the world champions, and both sides will appreciate the chance to lock early-season horns, with the 2019 World Cup at the end of this summer of final tweaking.
These two may not enter the international showpiece as favourites, but they are always in the World Cup conversation.
In 2015, as long ago as that now seems, Australia provided the tournament cheers, while the Proteas gave us the tears. They were memorable in their own, wickedly wonderful ways.
Now, with England 2019 on the horizon, South Africa would take great confidence from trampling Australia on their own turf. On the flip side, the Aussies will be just as eager to balm some of the patriotic wounds inflicted upon them on their recent visit.There are still enough protagonists on each side to stoke what embers remain from the fiery exchanges of the summer past.
Steve Smith and David Warner may still be sidelined, but there are still those who a bristling Aussie public will target. Du Plessis. Rabada. De Kock. An entire Australian dressing-room.
The Proteas will be cast as pantomime villains in a premium tune-up. If only it were a Test series, then there would be even more for observers to salivate over. But, the next fortnight or so will still give both camps plenty of food for thought.
The Proteas are still looking for top-order stability, while their hosts are resurrecting their mojo. A series win, minor though it may be to the rest of the world, will be a big step in the right direction.
Much like the All Blacks and the Springboks, these two cricketing juggernauts don’t do dead rubbers. There will be needle, and the notorious line will be pushed, if not quite crossed.
It will be short, but it is most likely to be sweet.
The Proteas squad is:
Faf du Plessis (capt), Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Heinrich Klaasen, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Chris Morris, Lungisani Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn