We want to create a culture where you believe you can win no matter who is playing: Rabada © AFP
A week ago, at the start of their T20I series against the West Indies, South Africa was warned far and wide – also on this platform – to prepare for an onslaught of opponents who were superior in every way. Seven days later, the South Africans not only won the rubber, they also won the hard way by prevailing in a playoff. And that after you didn’t take the opportunity to solve the problem with a game.
In contrast to the previous series of tests, which Dean Elgar’s team claimed 2-0 almost too easily, the T20Is were gnarled competitions. Saturday was no exception. It wasn’t until the 15th of the second inning, when Wiaan Mulder – playing his first game of the rubber – removed Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell with successive deliveries to get out of the Windies, who needed 59 of 32, that either team would have a definite advantage.
South Africa’s 168 for 4 was the largest sum in the series after one run. “We thought it was probably normal,” Mulder said in his television interview. The West Indies answer, 143 for 9, was the lowest answer.
Not much of the cricket played in these five games can be called pretty. Even less of it will be remembered in a year. But that doesn’t make South Africa’s success any less impressive, nor does it diminish the value of the performance of a team that has difficulty assessing itself correctly.
“We want to create a culture where you believe you can win no matter who is playing,” Kagiso Rabada told television. That was different from the West Indians, who perhaps showed too much of themselves. “The most disappointing thing is that we keep making the same mistakes, which is the definition of insanity,” Kieron Pollard told the audience.
Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram were part of Centennial Stands in T20Is before Saturday. But not in a series maker. The 128 they shared for the second wicket of 82 balls dwarfed everything else about the game. De Kock made 60 and Markram 70. Without them, South Africa would have had no hope.
But that gave them hope, and West Indies couldn’t keep up that day. Evin Lewis hit 52 out of 34 and Shimron Hetmyer made 33 out of 31. But it meant more that Lungi Ngidi, who went into the match with numbers for the rubber of 2 for 165, won 3/32.
Likewise, Temba Bavuma scored 76 runs in five innings. Or not enough, especially for a captain. And then, with 11 balls remaining and 29 balls left to score, he runs an incredibly difficult catch at a low point to get Dwayne Bravo off Rabada, and it all looks so simple.
Cricket. Stupid game. Unless the team that shouldn’t win does. What now? A week is a long time in cricket and everything else.