The Proteas didn’t stumble upon this new methodology of playing, i.e. being more aggressive only since Ottis Gibson arrived; it’s something they’ve been attempting for many years, going back to Mickey Arthur’s tenor and his catch-phrase "brave cricket".
It’s just that Gibson seems to have reminded the players, especially the newer recruits, about it again. It’s perhaps something they’ve taken a little bit of time to adapt to. It was all a bit tentative against India last summer when they started on this experimentation with players' policy and they got swamped by the brilliance of Virat Kohli, and India’s very good spinners.
In Sri Lanka, they started to play with the style Gibson and skipper Faf du Plessis believe best suits them - for the first four matches at least. They played with purpose with the bat, Duminy outstanding. With the ball Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi weren’t interested in limiting opposition runs, rather in taking wickets, and that was the same for Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj when he played.
But on the eve of the opening match of the series against Zimbabwe that starts in Kimberley today, Duminy, skippering the team while Faf du Plessis recovers from a shoulder ailment, said it was important the young SA side, find the right balance in their method. “Fearless is a strong word; there is always an element of fear or doubt about what you do. It’s about being consistent in what you’re trying to do and finding that perfect medium between being overly aggressive and conservative,” he said.
“We’ve tried a few different things in terms of our style of play. This series will be a continuation of that; what can we do, what we are willing to explore and the risks we are willing to take, finding our feet with that new brand of cricket we are trying to play.”
That sounds more philosophical than it needs to be. The game is still a simple one and for those players in the squad pushing for further recognition and more opportunities later this season, it's perhaps best not to burden them too much with such big talk.
The Proteas will have this series against their neighbours and the next one in Australia to continue rotating players and getting them as comfortable as possible with the style of play that the leadership wants them to play.
In terms of the composition of the team, Gibson admitted this week he still feels there are holes in the top order batting and that the middle order could do with someone putting their hands up.
The two raw young all-rounders, Wiaan Mulder and Andile Phehlukwayo, also need to become more consistent and in the case of Mulder perhaps an opportunity may be afforded him to bat higher up the order than has been the case so far in his young career. The Proteas attack is a very strong one, and Gibson and the selectors are keen on seeing how different combinations operate.
South Africa: JP Duminy (capt), Dean Elgar, Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Christiaan Jonker, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Lungisani Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Khaya Zondo
Zimbabwe: Hamilton Masakadza (capt), Solomon Mire, Craig Ervine, Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams, Peter Moor, Elton Chigumbura, Donald Tiripano, Kyle Jarvis, Brandon Mavuta, Richard Ngarava, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Wellington Masakadza, Ryan Murray, Tendai Chatara@shockerhess