Zimbos in town

It’s been one of South Africa’s longest ‘off-seasons’ for decades – just a short tour to Sri Lanka in the middle of five months of team inactivity – although many of the individuals have found gainful employment elsewhere, most notably Dean Elgar with Surrey and Dale Steyn with Hampshire in the English County Championship. Neither would have been in the ODI squad had they not been playing.

There was a time – a long time, actually – when the captains and coaches of superior teams felt the need to be politically correct about playing against hopelessly inferior opposition but, thankfully, that is less of a problem these days. Respect is one thing, and a good thing, but It is pointless pretending that Zimbabwe have any reason to expect to be competitive. Unless the Proteas play especially poorly.

Captain J-P Duminy used to be one of those prone to clichés but he has outgrown them now. Instead of ‘beware the underdog’ he chose to focus on the team’s series win against Sri Lanka and the continuation of preparation for the World Cup next year.

“We tried a few different things in our style of play and we will have learnt a lot from that. This series is a continuation of that; what can we do, what can’t we do, what are we willing to explore, what risks are we willing to take, this is a continuation of finding our feet in that new brand of cricket we want to play,” Duminy said in Kimberley. “I am excited by it, there is a lot of one-day cricket leading up to the World Cup for us to experiment and to find out what works for us, tomorrow is another opportunity for that.”

A few years ago Duminy would have been amongst the first to warn against the dangers of under-rating the Zimbabweans and, although he did make special mention of captain Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor and Shaun Williams as talented individuals, he mercifully stayed away from pretending this would, or should, be regarded as a close contest.

“It is about being consistent in what you are trying to achieve,” he said. “It is about finding the perfect balance between being overly aggressive and conservative, that is what we are trying to achieve, finding that balance. If we can find that consistency we will enter a World Cup feeling confident and we will walk away from series’ knowing that we have achieved something. It is not only about winning a series but identifying how we want to play.”

Yes, of course the Zimbabweans have a chance. They are finally beginning to see the game and their employers undergoing the restructuring that is a decade overdue and they might, finally, start believing in a future. But it will take a few more years for that to reflect on the field. This series should be about the Proteas displaying a crushing, ruthless dominance.

It’s great to be back in Kimberley. I love it. Pity it’s so hard to get here. SAA’s flight cutbacks aren’t helping!

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