CAPE TOWN – For large part of this One-Day series, the Proteas have looked second best.
India have not only outscored them, mostly through their irrepressible captain Virat Kohli and blockbusting opener Shikhar Dhawan, but also outsmarted them.
Kohli has masterfully used his spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, encouraging his wrist spinners to attack at every opportunity.
But on Saturday evening, South Africa finally got off the canvas and counter-punched through the fearlessness of a couple of youngsters of their own.
They now have to do it all over again at St George’s Park on Tuesday, but without the dark magic of the pink uniform, and on a slow, gripping surface that could suit the Indian spin wizards once more.
“I think we have got good momentum from the last game we just played,” Proteas all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo said defiantly.
“The team is in a really positive frame of mind, and we have been very specific in our training. We looked to score and be really positive.
“We have a good culture and were never down and out. We were always looking to fight back. Sometimes it just needs a small momentum shift.”
Phehulukwayo was certainly one of the heroes at Bullring on Saturday evening.
After David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen had softened up the Indians, it was the all-rounder that landed the knockout punch with a whirlwind 23 not out off only five balls.
Considering Phehlukwayo has closed out matches for South Africa before – most memorably against Australia in his maiden series – it certainly is a reason for optimism with the World Cup returning to English soil after a 20-year hiatus next year that the Proteas have discovered a top-class “finisher” once more.
Not many will forget that it was a certain Lance Klusener that bludgeoned attacks during the 1999 World Cup, with the Proteas legend ultimately being honoured with the Player of the Tournament accolade.
The fact that Phehlukwayo is also a southpaw, strikes a heavy blow, and hails from KwaZulu-Natal too has certainly not been lost on his admirers.
“People I looked up to… yeah… Lance Klusener was one of them,” the 21-year-old said.
“Shaun Pollock too… he was a good all-rounder and could play spin really well. I just try to stay positive in my game plan. Watch the ball and play to my strengths.”
Phehlukwayo, though, and the rest of the middle- to lower-order will hope that the men upfront provide the platform for them to express themselves later on.
With all the focus on the misfiring middle men throughout the series, it has almost been overlooked that South Africa’s openers have yet to survive the first powerplay.
Hashim Amla has had both Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram partner him upfront, but the time has come for the senior partner to lead the way.
Although fellow senior statesman AB de Villiers only struck a breezy 26 off 18 balls upon his return to the team, Phehlukwayo certainly benefited from the intent and energy brought to the Proteas dressing room.
“The vibe that he (De Villiers) brings to the team is just amazing. Undoubtedly, one of the best in the world. He brings so much in terms of leadership, and also what he teaches us in terms of batting is so good,” he said.
Teams For Port Elizabeth
South Africa (probable): Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram (captain), JP Duminy, AB de Villiers, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen, Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Morné Morkel, Imran Tahir/Tabraiz Shamsi.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal.