Cape Town – There’s a fair case to be made for saying South Africa might go into the World Cup a little underdone, given the near-pathetic calibre, frankly, of the Sri Lankan team they keep destroying in their last bilateral series before the major tournament.
The Proteas, this time with an encouragingly more rounded contribution through their ranks, again brushed aside the tourists while barely raising a sweat in ODI four of five at St George’s Park on Wednesday, where the famed new floodlights hadn’t even taken fullest effect by the time the victory was wrapped up.
Faf du Plessis and company did the business by six wickets and with more than 17 overs to spare, the kind of width of outcome that has roughly been mirrored throughout the series thus far.
With only the closing fixture remaining at Newlands on Saturday (13:00), time is running short for the host nation to be properly pushed in the manner they no doubt will in various tough dates at CWC 2019 in the UK from late May.
Just another reminder of the appealing number of potential trophy-winning candidates at the World Cup – almost certainly not including the ‘Lankans, mind – also came on Wednesday as Australia (heard of them?) dramatically revitalised themselves by sealing a come-from-behind 3-2 series triumph against expectation in India.
Back here, however, the Proteas seem primed to complete an altogether less thrilling 5-0 sweep of Lasith Malinga’s disappointingly ill-disciplined and lacklustre troops in Cape Town, in what would be their second successive home five-match ODI whitewash of these particular foes: they also did that trick in 2016/17.
“It is almost as if the Tests (Sri Lanka’s sensational, historic 2-0 triumph in the first part of the tour) were their Everest; everything else has tailed off into insignificance since,” correctly bemoaned SuperSport commentator Mpumelelo Mbangwa during play in the Friendly City.
So yes, it is possible that South Africa may, subconsciously, currently have a slightly inflated view of their abilities.
There would be much to gain for both sides if the Sri Lankans can suddenly play out of their skins at Newlands and take the fifth ODI right to the wire.
That said, are we supposed to instead castigate the Proteas for the way they have clinically dismantled their opponents, up to this point?
Maybe a series against one of their more consistently co-superpowers, if you like, would have been of greater benefit ahead of CWC 2019, but the flip side of that scenario is that if South Africa had been beaten on home turf it might not have been the ideal outcome, morale-wise, in the lead-up to the jamboree.
Also to keep in mind is that when the Proteas went to the last World Cup in Australasia in 2015, their last bilateral opponents ahead of it also weren’t exactly a juggernaut at the time, either: West Indies.
The Caribbean outfit were duly walloped 4-1 on our soil, including by several massive margins, and it didn’t stop South Africa generally maintaining standards and having a competitive World Cup soon afterwards, where they were knocked out by a whisker in a semi-final against co-hosts New Zealand.
This time, too, there is a considerably longer gap to the latest World Cup, so whether Sri Lanka had run the Proteas much closer or not, this series will largely have been forgotten by the time all teams land in England in May.
Still to be completed before CWC 2019 is the remaining matter of the three-match Twenty20 series against the ‘Lankans, plus the protracted exertions of the Indian Premier League for many of the most pivotal (and other) SA players.
In many ways, then, the Proteas and all other World Cup contestants will really be wiping the slate clean in some two months’ time and then only have a couple of warm-up games as reunited combinations to try to hit the ground running in England and Wales.
These Sri Lankans may have been running up white flags a little too liberally over the last couple of weeks, but South Africa were pushed rather harder in the prior 50-overs series against Pakistan (they edged it 3-2) and certainly aren’t in a bad space despite certain, lingering own shortcomings …
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