JOHANNESBURG – The Proteas men are a bizarrely inconsistent team, that has string together a six match winning streak in T20 Internationals.
People may quibble that three of those victories were against Ireland – but South Africa won and all those wins came in matches played away from home. It doesn’t make sense in the broader context of the Proteas’ performances since Mark Boucher took over as head coach.
New caps – regardless of the format – have been dished out habitually, the team would win one game then lose the next, captains changed, selections were strange and Boucher would always appear to have a new excuse for why performances lacked consistency – the fielding was errant, yet another batting collapse or undisciplined bowling.
Yet here they are, a little over a month away from their opening match at the T20 World Cup against Australia, and the Proteas have strung together this winning sequence, the most notable part of which was the triumph against the defending World Cup winners, the West Indies in July.
“A lot of it is the perception of people,” Tabraiz Shamsi, one of the undoubted stars of this streak, said following the second T20 International against Sri Lanka. “We are on a run of consecutive games (won). I don’t think this team is rubbish. I think we are quite good. I know people think of the great teams of the past. This team is on par with them.”
Winning the final match of the series against Sri Lanka on Tuesday, would see Shamsi and the current group of Proteas, match South Africa’s best run of wins in the T20 formats – seven. That was achieved in 2009, when the side won seven matches in a row, five of which came at the T20 World Cup held in England that year. That streak was ended in the semi-finals of that tournament by Pakistan.
“We might not have any household names. That’s because previously many of us have not played that much international cricket, but it doesn’t mean the players are not good, just because they are not well known,” said Shamsi.
It was the absence of ‘household names,’ like Faf du Plessis, Chris Morris and Imran Tahir from the squad named for this year’s T20 World Cup, which caused consternation last week. The current group is obviously growing in confidence, which was boosted significantly by that triumph in the Caribbean.
Aiden Markram is growing accustomed to the no.3 spot, where Du Plessis thrived, and also has very useful part-time off-spin which his captain can call upon. Bjorn Fortuin isn’t much less of a player than Tahir or George Linde, it's just strange he wasn’t offered more opportunities to play this year. And Keshav Maharaj has emerged as one of the most important players in the team, not just for his skill with the ball, but the way he thinks about the game and clearly the respect he’s engendered within the squad.
“It’s South Africa’s team, the people’s team. I don’t have my picture on this badge,it’s our country and all of us are trying to make people proud back home. We are going to make mistakes but we are freakin sweating here in the sun to try and get results,” Shamsi passionately opined.
Tuesday’s final T20 International starts at 3.30pm.