The most vexing question after the third T20 International concerned the proportions between South Africa’s excellence and Sri Lanka’s ineptitude. When vanquished opponents are so hopeless in the contest it tends to distract and therefore detract from the quality of the victors’ performance. Sri Lanka were so poor during the T20 series that it is impossible to judge the Proteas’ performance with any confidence, other than to say they were ‘very good.’
The majority of Sri Lanka’s batsman don’t play the sweep, conventional or reverse, which is the dietary equivalent for the Islanders of not eating fish. “It’s a confidence thing,” said the frustrated batting coach, Grant Flower. “Most of them believe they can manipulate the spinners with a straight bat and wrist-work, but sometimes you need the option of a sweep.”
All of South Africa’s specialist batsmen play a variety of sweep shots with confidence and success – although most of them only had the chance to display those skills in the first game. Sri Lanka’s batting may have been physically and mentally feeble but they still have several fine spinners and their ineffectiveness was highly encouraging ahead of the T20 World Cup.
After the game the IPL Proteas returned to the team hotel for a six-hour sleep before their charter flight to Dubai while those returning home were due to shower at the stadium and head straight to the airport for a 3:30am flight to Johannesburg via Doha. There was no shortage of irony that a potentially tight schedule – especially if rain had intervened and the match went to a close finish – turned into a bit of drag with victory secured almost 45 minutes ahead of the scheduled close of play.
A couple of the TV crew, including my dear mate Tony Hoffman, were heading straight to Rawalpindi for the start of New Zealand’s tour of Pakistan. They helped as much with the de-rig as they could before having a quick shower and heading straight to the airport for a 2:30am flight. They would be rigging the new set soon after landing. Glamorous life. There was just time before the start of play for the traditional ‘production photo’ which always provides a reminder that, no matter how much technology improves and how many drone cameras are used, it takes a lot of people to televise cricket – especially with Hawkeye, Ultra Edge and DRS.
The Proteas face Australia, West Indies and England in the group stages of the T20 Word Cup as well as two qualifiers. I respectfully suggest that they are firm underdogs against England, even-money against the West Indies (based on the 3-2 series result two months ago) and a better, more structured team than Australia. The Proteas are a limited team but the really good news is that, not only do they know what those limitations are, they appear able to turn them into assets.