Now to get Steyn fit and firing for India

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South Africa’s remarkable recent record in T20 internationals provides lots of reasons for optimism regarding Faf du Plessis’ team’s chances at the ICC World T20 in India next month. In their last nine T20 internationals, the Proteas have emerged victorious eight times, a stunning level of consistency in a format where a single individual performance can often swing the outcome of a match one way or another. South Africa are now ranked second in the format.

In that period they’ve won in Bangladesh and in India, while Sunday’s thumping of England was a further indication of the side’s growing confidence.

Australia should provide an intense examination of South Africa’s progress when they line up against Du Plessis’ team for three T20s in the first week of March. That series will serve as the final period of preparation ahead of the World T20, which for South Africa starts on March 18, with a match against England in Mumbai.

That tournament is a vital one for South African cricket which needs some good news after a season in which match-fixing, racial disharmony at domestic level and a faltering Test team have dominated discussion.

Those topics were apparently on the agenda at a meeting called yesterday by Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula with Cricket South Africa’s administrative hierarchy. So next month will provide an opportunity to draw attention away from those troubles.

Following Sunday’s dominant performance, AB de Villiers, not unsurprisingly for him, felt it was important that the players remained focused on the positives. “Look,” he said pointing at Du Plessis seated next to him, “he’s the captain of the T20 side, so it must mean a lot to him, especially after winning eight out of nine games of T20 cricket.

“Test cricket is the most important format, but that (series against England) was a long time ago, and we’ve won two series in a row now, ODIs and T20s against a really good outfit. We will take a lot of confidence from that moving into the World Cup.”

South Africa will continue to tinker with the line-up as Du Plessis and the selectors assess individuals and combinations. The most significant returnee against Australia is Dale Steyn, who has been absent for the last two months. Steyn is most likely to step in for Kagiso Rabada, who was going to be rested at some point during the one-day series against England, but because South Africa found themselves having to come from behind has been involved more than management probably wanted.

Steyn needs the game time of course and a series against Australia should serve him well and allow the competitive juices to start bubbling before the journey to India. The paceman is slated to play a club match in the city this weekend too.

Quinton de Kock should also feature against Australia as he gets a chance to compete with Hashim Amla for the second opening berth. Du Plessis said on Sunday night the selectors may yet consider a scenario where all three are accommodated in the starting line-up, but for now, there is place for only one of De Kock or Amla.

Given both players’ form, though, a top-order of De Villiers, Amla and De Kock is worth considering. That would mean someone in the middle-order falling out, most likely Rilee Rossouw or Dave Miller. JP Duminy despite a dip this summer remains an important part of the T20 team and it’s worth recalling he was the man of the series when South Africa beat India last October.

Imran Tahir has returned to form and though the selectors wouldn’t want to upset the leg-spinner’s rhythm the Australia series is also an ideal time to give Aaron Phangiso a run. The left-arm slow bowler has been on the sidelines most of this season and is expected to get a run for the Highveld Lions in their One-Day Cup playoff at the Wanderers against the Warriors tomorrow. That outing should stand him in good stead, but he will need the extra playing time against the Australians ahead of the T20 showpiece.

Most of the players have been instructed to take time off ahead of a hectic schedule next month that starts with the three matches against Australia which will be played between March 4 and 9. The side leaves for India a day later and will play two warm-up games ahead of their opening encounter against England.

Cape Argus

South Africa will continue to tinker with its T20 line-up, and the most significant returnee against Australia is Dale Steyn.

Original source: Now to get Steyn fit and firing for India

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