Cape Town — Who wants to be Victor Mpitsang right now?
With each passing game, the Proteas T20I unit are providing the national selection convenor with some near impossible decisions to make when he sits down with his fellow selectors Patrick Moroney and coach Mark Boucher to select the T20 World Cup squad to be held in Australia later this year.
It was no different in Bristol on Wednesday evening with the Proteas completing a resounding 21-run victory over Ireland.
The opposition may have changed, but Reeza Hendricks’ sublime form hasn't, which has placed him in exalted company alongside the likes of Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Gustav Mckeon and Rayyankhan Pathan as the only batters to strike four consecutive T20I half-centuries.
His innings of 74 on Wednesday evening was once again a masterpiece of placement and timing, almost delicate in places and at odds with the brute force so often associated with T20. It took a mere 53 balls and contained 1o fours and 1 sixes.
The only criticism of Hendricks could be that he did not fully maximise the Powerplay with South Africa only managing 47 in the first six overs, although the cheap loss of both Quinton de Kock (7) and Rassie van der Dussen (10) during this period may have been a contributing factor.
In the build-up to this series opener, Aiden Markram had spoken about the “healthy competition” among the batters that has pushed everyone to raise their own games, and how his role remained to raise the “intensity” upon arrival at the crease.
Markram executed his role to perfection last night with a sublime half-century off just 25 balls (2 x 4, 4 x 6) and Ireland breathed a sigh of relief when he was dismissed just when the party was really about to start.
With Hendricks departing the very next ball too, Ireland would have hoped to stem the tide with two fresh batters still needing to acclimatise to the surface.
But if they had watched South Africa’s last match here in the southwest of England, they would have been warned about the threat young Tristan Stubbs (24, 3x4, 1x6) poses.
The 21-year-old is a genuine dynamo when he begins to wield his willow, and the rookie is certainly giving Mpitsang and Co. every reason to get him on that plane Down Under in October.
Stubbs only faced 11 deliveries, but it was an all-action affair. Two balls in he waltzed down the wicket to dispatch Mark Adair over his head for a boundary. He followed it up with a towering six over midwicket before flat-batting another boundary straight back.
If Stubbs’ raw power had everyone gasping in admiration, he showed that he also had the finesse to produce a virtual double reverse ramp for good measure three balls later.
And when Stubbs departed, Dwaine Pretorius provided the finishing touches to the innings with a breezy 21 off just seven balls.
The miniscule size of the Bristol outfield would always keep Ireland in the hunt, particularly with Lorcan Tucker (78 off 38 balls, 7x4, 5x6) and George Dockrell (43 off 28 balls, 2x4, 3x6) providing stern resistance, but ultimately South Africa’s bowling unit led by the impressive Wayne Parnell (2/36) and the spin twins Keshab Maharaj (2/29) and Tabraiz Shamsi (2/37) simply had too much experience and nous for the Irish to contend with.
South Africa: 211/5 (Hendricks 74, Markram 56, Delaney 2/31)
Ireland: 190/9 (Tucker 78, Dockrell 43, Maharaj 2/29, Parnell 2/36)
South Africa won by 21 runs