Proteas: Improvement needed if today's pride & joy is to remain
The Standard Bank Proteas need to continue improving if the sense of pride and joy that surrounds the team today is to remain in the long-term, coach Russell Domingo said upon the squad’s triumphant return from their Test series triumph in Australia.
The Proteas not only became only the second team in over a hundred years to win three successive Test series in Australia, but they also completed an amazing turnaround in fortunes from last season’s woes, beginning with the series win over New Zealand and then the historic 5-0 whitewash of the Aussies in the limited-overs series. But Domingo, who has come through a tough time personally with many calling for his head, wants the Proteas to keep pushing on.
“The team is in a good space at the moment and we have to treasure and nurture that because things can change very quickly in this game. The belief is slowly coming back into the team, but we are not yet where I feel we could be, although we’re heading in the right direction,” Domingo said.
Chief among the coach’s concerns is the inconsistency of the batting. Although South Africa’s batsmen scored five centuries and five half-centuries during the three-match series, only Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis averaged over 40.
“The batting, in particular, is an area we need to improve. We were 40 for three a lot and even 150 for six in the last game. Players are putting in big performances, but not consistently. A guy would score a hundred and then have a couple of Tests with no runs. Quinton was the one guy to find a rich vein of form, but for the rest there was no follow-up after they scored big runs. We’ve identified that and will work hard at it,” Domingo said.
Australia scored just one century in the series, by the impressive Usman Khawaja in the final Test in Adelaide, which Australia won by seven wickets. But that defeat was more about the Proteas having just run out of legs and intensity, having given their absolute all in winning the first two Tests.
Although the chance of an historic double-whitewash passed the Proteas by, captain Du Plessis said he was more than satisfied with a 2-1 series win.
“We set high standards and obviously we wanted a 3-0 win, but I’m exceptionally happy with a 2-1 win. If you had offered me 2-1 at the start of the series, I would have bitten your whole arm off for that result. If there was one specific incident that was more important than any others in winning us the series, it was the turnaround in Perth.
“The belief that the team took from that session, sparked by resilience, was out of this world and it took the team to a new level of confidence. It’s probably the best session I’ve been part of on a cricket field, the way everyone stood up after losing Dale Steyn, which was incredibly hard, the whole team felt it, but somehow they just made it possible to bounce back.
“After Dale’s injury, everyone thought we were out of the contest and I think we shocked Australia by playing some scarily good cricket,” Du Plessis said.
Despite the magnitude of the triumph, South Africa are still only fifth in the Test rankings, with Australia third, and the Proteas are going to have to keep winning if they are to return to the number one spot, preferably starting with a 3-0 victory over Sri Lanka in December/January.
“Going up the rankings is a goal of ours but it won’t just happen, we need to take really small steps to get back to number one. But all the signs are there that we can get back there; Sri Lanka are a good team, they’re playing well, but if we beat them then I reckon we’ll be close to number two,” Du Plessis said.
When Domingo and Du Plessis were asked to come up with reasons for the remarkable resurgence in the Proteas’ fortunes, the coach came up with “unity” and “resilience”, while the skipper mentioned “energy” and “vision”.
“It’s been a combination of things and getting a few players back that we have missed a lot, like Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, has made a massive difference. But the unity amongst the guys and the realisation of how important it is to play for your country has been very important. A few players have also come back into form, the team as a whole has got their confidence back. This team prides itself on their resilience,” Domingo said.
For Du Plessis, it goes back to the culture camp the squad had in August.
“We made some obvious goals because we weren’t happy with where we were as a team. We had that weekend away and we took a hard look at ourselves with brutal honesty. Ninety percent of our success is due to the rebirth in energy and vision from that camp and the results speak for themselves. We wanted to make sure our team culture was strong, that all of us were on the same boat and making sure we are going in the right direction,” Du Plessis said.
The Proteas captain will now await the date for his appeal hearing for ball-tampering, which is expected to be confirmed this week, but Du Plessis maintained his strong stance that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Whatever the outcome of that hearing, at which Du Plessis will now have proper South African legal representation, it will not detract from the fact that he led South Africa to one of their greatest triumphs – beating Australia in Australia is the stuff childhood dreams are made of.