JOHANNESBURG - Friday’s series opening win against Sri Lanka, provided the Proteas with a bit of breathing room following the heavy criticism that in the wake of the announcement of the squad for the T20 World Cup.
It was only one match, but the player at the centre of arguably the most ire about his absence, George Linde, wore a smile , while carrying drinks. Meanwhile, Bjorn Fortuin, a surprising selection, given his occasional appearances for the national side this year, performed his role well with the ball.
The Proteas, largely inconsistent with performances in the last 12 months, have put together a mini winning streak in the T20 format, have emerged victorious in their last five matches - a run that dates back to the series triumph in the West Indies and includes the sweep in Ireland.
It’s a small step, but a significant one for a side, that needs to draw on any piece of good to boost confidence.
For the likes of Linde and Andile Phehlukwayo, who missed out on selection for the ‘playing’ squad for the World Cup, but are amongst the reserves - who will accompany side to the tournament - it would have been a difficult day following the announcement on Thursday.
For Linde especially, who’s been playing regularly this year, and done well, it would have been a bitter pill to swallow.
“It’s never a nice thing to be on the receiving end of bad news for a World Cup,” Aiden Markram, who is in the squad, said after Friday’s opening match against Sri Lanka.
“The guys who are feeling hurt and pain have been getting quite a bit of love from the (other) guys, to try and take care and support them. I think they still appreciate the value that they have, in the squad as a whole going to a World Cup.
“In our environment we’ve been brilliant, especially now with Covid and bigger squads, taking care of players that most of the time won’t be playing, but are on tour, away from home. It is as important as winning games.”
Keeping the spirits up, given all that is taking place in South African cricket right now, is tough, and demands more of the players. It hasn’t been made easier by the absence of limited overs captain Temba Bavuma, but the remaining players have adapted as well as they can in his absence, especially the man tasked with filling in for him, Keshav Maharaj.
The 31-year-old left-arm spinner has captained the Proteas since the second ODI and the fact that there hasn’t been an alarming drop off in performance - notwithstanding that awful batting display in the third ODI - nor any confusion in the field, suggests Maharaj has a strong grip on the demands of leadership.
“I’ve always said I wanted to captain South Africa,” Maharaj remarked on Saturday. “The personnel I have around me on and off the field, has helped me to manage situations with tactics and implementation. It’s a collective team effort. I may be the leader on the field, but we have a lot of leaders in their own right who lead on their own, which makes my job a lot easier.”
Quinton de Kock has proved to be a good sounding board for Maharaj, while the experience of Kagiso Rabada and David Miller adds to the resources Maharaj has at his disposal. “I’m a very open minded captain. I’ve found, in learning from other guys who’ve captained, is that you must rely on players feeding you information amongst your own plans and thoughts,” he said.
Wrapping up the series with Sri Lanka on Sunday in the second T20 International is critical to the build up to the World Cup according to Maharaj. “From a confidence point of view, ahead of the T20 World Cup, it’s important for this team to take care of this series,” he said.
SA T20 Squad for Sri Lanka:
Quinton de Kock, Bjorn Fortuin, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, George Linde, Keshav Maharaj (capt), Sisanda Magala, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Wiaan Mulder, Anrich Nortje, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen, Lizaad Williams.