Martedì, 09 Febbraio 2016 08:11

Sport24.co.za | Proteas suddenly kick like mule

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Cape Town – It was a long time in coming,but when it did it packed a surprisingly hefty punch.

The South African cricket team finallyearned a victory over the touring England cricketers

in a game of consequenceat the sixth attempt this summer on Tuesday, dismantling them by seven wicketswith 22 deliveries to spare in the third one-day international at Centurion.

I mention “consequence” because as well asthey played in the fourth and final Test of the surrendered five-day series,the Proteas nevertheless won a dead-rubber fixture, and we know from pastexperience that the motivation on such occasions is different – to put ittactfully – for the mentally (and possibly even medically) hung-over sidealready safely in possession of the series spoils.

But by producing such an irresistiblypowerful performance with the bat at SuperSport Park in the day/night ODI, ABde Villiers’s outfit finally gave the visitors a “proper” taste of defeat, ifyou like, and simultaneously served notice that they still have a stab atsalvaging the 50-overs bragging rights.

It is 2-1 to England with two to play –Wanderers on Friday and Newlands on Sunday – and the home nation will enjoy thefact that they stay on the fast-and-furious Highveld for the first part of theremaining task, which is to square things up ahead of the flight down to theMother City.

The Bullring portents are fairly healthyfor the Proteas, not only given that it is another “Pink Day” in support ofcancer awareness – their record in that gear is a 100 percent one – but thatthey have won all of their last three ODIs at the intimidating stadium and byfairly wide margins.

There is also the chance that a few Englandplayers who had also been present for the earlier Test combat may be startingto feel early symptoms of homesickness after Tuesday’s missed opportunity toput the series to bed surprisingly early.

South Africa, by contrast, can just beginto dream – though they remain the dark horses from here – of repeating aphenomenon last savoured by the country back in 2003/04 in Pakistan: comingfrom 0-2 down to steal a five-match ODI series 3-2.

It remains a formidable ask against foeswho have dominated them for several weeks, but at least for the next couple ofdays the Proteas squad and management can breathe a sigh of relief and bask inthe afterglow of their clear-cut Centurion mastery.

Oh we of little faith: I may not be theonly critic to have been left surprised and cynical by the expansive width ofthe smiles on the SA team’s faces even as they left the field having seen theEnglish amass another bulky total well above 300.

A score of such weight, after all, hadnever previously been chased down successfully at the venue, and consideringthe widespread suffering England have inflicted on this tour so far, suchbullishness seemed misplaced, cocky and ill-advised.

But as De Villiers enthused afterwards, hisXI crammed with home-town knowledge -- in the shape of extremely generousTitans representation – had been adamant that 300-plus was gettable on asurface known to “skid on” usefully once the sun has disappeared.

They confirmed that theory, and then some.

Defeat was only going to be a 10 or 20percent likelihood after a quite dazzling opening alliance of 239 in just shortof 37 overs by long-serving maestro Hashim Amla (127) and booming young gun Quintonde Kock (135), who is looking more and more like some sort of modern left-handedequivalent to Barry Richards for pure genius, audacity and fearlessness at thetop of the order.

The stand shook England to theirfoundations – as you might expect seeing that it became the eighth highest forthe first wicket of all time in ODIs and 24th best in the hall offame for any wicket.

It was Shrove Tuesday – pancake day – andan English attack that we have previously seen is emphatically not ... OK,crepe? ... found methods to stem theflow of runs desperately hard to come by; it was as if the boot had swiftlytransferred to the other foot after a long period of South African discomfort inthat department.

One win doesn’t cure all ills: South Africaretain problems in team balance, tactical wisdom at times and certainquestionable individual selections.

But this one was a stunner, a shot in thearm of some substance for them.

Now can they build on it in Johannesburg?

*Followour chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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