WATCH: The sky’s the limit for this Proteas team, says Shukri Conrad after series win over Windies

Published Mar 11, 2023

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Johannesburg — South Africa’s Test renaissance is now well and truly underway.

It may be another nine months before it will really be put to the test, but for now the smiles are back on the faces of a group of players who were in a “really dark” place just a couple of months ago.

It is easy to disregard a 2-0 clean sweep of the West Indies, particularly as the tourists have not beaten a major nation on foreign soil since 1995.

Equally, the core of this Proteas team defeated the Windies away at the beginning of the World Test match cycle that concluded for the home team at the Wanderers on Saturday.

But this was different. There was no Quinton de Kock who virtually single-handedly won the series in the Caribbean.

This series also provided the confirmation that Temba Bavuma is the team’s premier Test batter, which was rubber stamped by his “match-defining” 172 here at the Wanderers.

He is also the undisputed leader of the team, especially judging by the wild celebrations of his teammates and coaching staff upon the skipper reaching his milestone on Friday.

Then there’s the second coming of Aiden Markram. The Player of the Series is now entrenched as the Proteas opener in red-ball cricket after his 276 runs at an average 69. There will be no more shuffling around the batting order.

And then there’s the young'uns Tony de Zorzi and Gerald Coetzee. After being handed Test debuts at the start of the series both have made impactful contributions, but more importantly have the look of Test cricketers.

De Zorzi’s 85 in the first innings set up this second Test, while his contribution to partnerships with Markram in particular were essential considering the still brittle nature of the middle order.

Coetzee, meanwhile, seemed to thrive on the extra responsibility on Saturday afternoon when – in the absence of the injured Anrich Nortje, rested Marco Jansen, tiring Kagiso Rabada and the both ailing Wiaan Mulder and Keshav Maharaj – he tightened the trademark white sweatband around his head and charged in from the Corlett Drive End.

The result was three quick wickets to wrap up the Windies’ second innings for a paltry 106 to power the home side to victory by a massive 284 runs.

As Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith from the hit 1980’s television series, The A Team, always said: “I love it when a plan comes together”.

“Winning is always fun. I did enjoy it. It was great to see how guys react and respond. The little bit of growth that has happened already,” Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad said.

“That was really rewarding from a cricket point of view. But just to see smiles on people’s faces again, and a happy change room, that was the really fun part for me.

“It’s no secret where the side has come from. Australia was really dark and we had to deal with it, and I say we, because we had to speak honestly and candidly about Dean (Elgar) no longer being the captain.

“I think that’s the only way one moves forward, is when one does speak openly and honestly, and I think Dean also appreciated that.

“And then for Temba to step up the way he did. We also have got some key guys in that change room that play leadership roles without being at the forefront of conversations.

“I really think the fundamentals are there for this team’s culture to grow.”

The smooth handing over of the leadership baton from Elgar to Bavuma was certainly critical to the success of this side.

But for it to be accepted en masse Bavuma had to play his part. Conrad could stand up on the pulpit and preach the gospel to whoever wanted to listen, but Bavuma was always going to be judged on his actions.

The skipper responded with an innings that may yet define his Test career.

“He is always under a lot of pressure for no good reason sometimes. I think yesterday’s knock was monumental. The series was on a knife edge,” Conrad said.

“The West Indies, as they have done throughout the series, found a way to claw themselves back into the match.

“We on the other hand found ways to allow them back into the game. So when he walked in at 8/2 and then a couple more wickets fell, someone needed to stand up, and move the momentum in our favour and ultimately the series as well.

“And it was Temba. It is a language we use where we speak about match-defining performances, and that was match defining.”

The only dark cloud to hover over the Proteas series win was the long-term Achilles injury Keshav Maharaj suffered on Saturday.

The left-arm spinner has a complete rupture of his left Achilles’ tendon and is due to see a surgeon on Monday and will be withdrawn from the upcoming white-ball series against the Windies.

@ZaahierAdams

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