Reign strong, reign long

It is time for the doubters to hold their tongues. And if they are ‘real’ men and women, to admit that they may have got it wrong. The Proteas have now won both the T20 and the ODI series against India and go into the four-match Test series on a high very few supporters could have imagined. The players and management, of course, may say they pictured it.

There were a host of brilliant individual performances (take your pick, it’ll be hard to isolate a favourite) but the overwhelming aspect of the 214-run triumph at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Sunday was the overwhelming fearlessness of the team’s approach.

In cricket, unlike rugby when two top teams meet each other, it is possible to adopt an approach so aggressive, so bullish, that the opposition simply do not have time to recover. 50 overs is a long time, of course, but when the tempo is set the effect can be contagious for both teams. Hashim Amla lashed five boundaries from the 12 balls he faced before he was dismissed and Quinton de Kock followed suit for much of the first 25 overs, by which time he had scored a century.

When bowlers are looking at a batsman with a hundred to his name before the halfway point of the innings, it is asking an impossible question for them not be disheartened. Their pace drops, their confidence evaporates and they stop looking for wickets. When ‘damage limitation’ mode sets in by the 25th over, the batting side is in total control.

Faf du Plessis played his role to perfection, pushing singles and keeping either de Kock or de Villiers on strike. He ran hard, and often, and the cramp which sidelined him was proof of that. I was amused by some comment which questioned his fitness and conditioning. No other batsman in the world could have worked as hard as he did, in Mumbai conditions, to equal effect. He was awesome.

De Kock, too, was an inspiration. Where his career goes from here is up to him. He is too young to ask himself the questions, never mind answer them, because when you score a century by the 24th over and your team win by 214 runs, what is there to ask? He is right to think he did an outstanding job.

If, on the other hand, he wants to change the game forever, as Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, Ian Botham, Sanath Jayasuriya, Shahid Afridi and de Villiers have, he may want reflect on what might have been if he had been a little fitter and stronger. Frankly, his talent would not desert him. If he had batted through to the final ten overs and still been strong, he could have scored 250. But no doubt we’ll all be delighted for him to keep scoring centuries from 80 balls and then running out of steam. More games will be won than lost that way. How far he wants to go is up to him.

The team deserve every minute of downtime they have in the next week and a half. They have done themselves and us all proud. No need to tell them that the Test series is what matters most. They know that all too well.

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