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Friday, March 1, 2024

Should Proteas fans dare to dream?

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Proteas fans of a certain generation are not accustomed to what they gloriously witnessed yesterday at Lucknow’s Ekana International Cricket Stadium.

But much more of this, and they may actually have to start believing they have a team worthy of going a long way at the 50-over Cup.

South Africa were exemplary in all that they did yesterday in crushing five-time champions Australia by a mammoth 134 runs.

There is a traditional closeness between these teams – especially at Cups – and the coin has customarily fallen on the side of Australia.

But yesterday, the Proteas were utterly dominant in all aspects. They batted better, bowled better, fielded better and also reviewed better than Australia.

Perhaps they ought to have made more runs than the 311/7 they eventually mustered, courtesy of a brilliant second consecutive Quinton de Kock Cup century (109 off 106 balls, 8×4, 5×6), and another stylish 56 from Aiden Markram, but it turned out to be more than enough by a country mile.

The Proteas were relentless with the ball, whether quick or slow, in skittling out the Australians for 177 in 40.5 overs.

SA were fierce from the start. The much-maligned Lungi Ngidi charged in with a sense of energy and purpose not seen for years.

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And his new-ball partner Marco Jansen backed him up from the other end with an equally penetrative spell.

Ngidi’s reawakening is arguably the biggest boost for the Proteas moving forward at the Cup.

David Warner may have fortuitously cut a wide delivery

straight to Rassie van der Dussen at point, but it could not have been more deserved, with Ngidi’s figures reading 4-2-4-1 at that stage.

Jansen had already sent Mitchell Marsh back to the dug-out at that stage, leaving Australia with a mountain to climb, which became significantly steeper after Kagiso Rabada (3/33) left his indelible imprint on the contest.

Rabada and Steve Smith have enjoyed some epic battles over the years, but this one was stifled before it could even ignite.

Smith, walking across his stumps, was struck on the pads from a ball angling in from Rabada.

Umpire Joel Wilson wasn’t convinced, but Rabada and De Kock convinced captain Temba Bavuma to have the decision reviewed upstairs.

Much to the Proteas’ delight, and Smith’s utter disbelief, the decision was overturned to leave Australia in a spot of bother at 50/3.

But if there was any doubt about Smith’s dismissal, there was certainly none about Rabada’s next wicket, with the big fast bowler dismantling Josh Inglis’ stumps in his next over.

Australia were in free fall, with Keshav Maharaj (2/30) flummoxing Glenn Maxwell and Rabada also suffocating Marcus Stoinis down the leg side in quick succession to virtually end the match as a contest at 70/6. Australia’s start to their innings was in complete contrast to the Proteas’ batting effort.

After being inserted on a surface that neither captain quite knew exactly how it would behave, the Proteas went against the modern grain by adopting a virtual Testmatch mode against the high-quality new-ball pair of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

Both De Kock and Bavuma (35) absorbed the early pressure without taking any undue risk, and landed the first jab when Starc was removed from the attack after delivering just three overs.

In workmanlike fashion, the pair brought up the Proteas’ 100-run partnership for the first wicket in the 18th over and from thereon, the platform was laid.

And even though Bavuma, in attempting to put down the hammer, was dismissed shortly afterwards – with Australia finally holding onto a chance in the deep – De Kock ensured the tempo of the innings never faltered.

In what was a perfect illustration of De Kock’s new-found patience, the dynamic left-hander was content to play out a maiden to Maxwell’s offspin before climbing into Hazlewood with successive meaty leg-side sixes.

There were three further maximums, including a rasping pull shot that sailed into the stands to bring up De Kock’s 19th one-day international century in sublime style. To Australia’s credit, they never quite let De Kock and the rest of the incoming batters break the shackles off completely, particularly during the final 10 overs as they restricted the Proteas to 79/4 during this period.

It could potentially have been much worse had Pat Cummins completed a relatively routine caught-and-bowled chance when Markram tapped a full toss straight back at the Australian captain before he had gone through the gears.

That was ultimately the die cast, which seemed to encapsulate the gulf between the teams on a day that many South Africans will remember for a long time.

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