The Proteas used the defeat in the final ODI against Sri Lanka as fuel to power their way to a cleansweep in the subsequent T20 International series, further lifting their confidence ahead of the T20 World Cup next month.
Stand-in skipper, Keshav Maharaj, who led superbly over the course of five matches in Sri Lanka, described that defeat as “a bitter pill to swallow.” South Africa had restricted Sri Lanka to 203/9, but then collapsed to 125 all out in the run chase. “It was a collective effort, the wounds of losing that series in the third ODI has filtered out into good performances in this T20 series,” said Maharaj.
Even as the Proteas lost that series, Maharaj’s use of spinners and his tactical nous in the field were eye catching. Head coach Mark Boucher, said following Tuesday’s win in the third T20 match, that Maharaj’s leadership skills were no surprise to him, explaining that the 31 year old left-arm spinner, has a “great feel for the game, especially when you’re playing a lot of spinners.”
From Bjorn Fortuin to world no.1 ranked T20 bowler, Tabraiz Shamsi, to Aiden Markram’s part-time off-spin and Maharaj himself, South Africa’s spinners were outstanding and will have provided their group rivals at the World Cup, that include favourites England, defending champions the West Indies and Australia with plenty of food for thought.
“It’s crucial for a spinner to be backed,” said Maharaj about this new age for the Proteas. “It’s often we bowl an over and we may go for 10 or 12 runs, it’s important that we give them the confidence to come back. Bjorn showed that, Shammo’s been exceptional, he might go for runs in his first couple of overs, but he finds a way to come back still go under six runs an over and picks up wickets.”
“It’s about backing, about giving support. That’s what spinners have needed in our country and it’s good that the coach and selectors have started to back spin more and see the impact that we can make. It’s a confidence booster, to know you have the backing of the hierarchy in the team,” he added.
Then there’s been his captaincy, which has been authoritative and innovative. He certainly didn’t look like a novice. In one sense that is understandable, given that Maharaj has captained previously at domestic level, but the ease with which he took to the task for the Proteas, at such short notice, was exemplary.
“It’s about adapting on the field and trying to read conditions as soon as possible. I try to identify periods in the game where we can go for the kill. Fortunately, the bowlers I’ve called upon at various stages have stepped up to the plate. I’d like to credit my bowlers. Whenever I’ve called upon someone they’ve picked up wickets or bowled a containing spell, ” Maharaj explained.
Bavuma is a few weeks away from returning to training and will lead the side at the World Cup, but Maharaj has emerged as a crucial lieutenant for that event. “I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity. Temba is the man for the job right now. I’m just filling in his shoes and following up where he left off. I’m sure he’ll make a speedy recovery and take over the reins. He’s done a sterling job so far and everyone is looking forward to having him back with the team.”