The ODI Series may already have been decided by the time the teams took the field at Boland Park on Saturday but the final contest between the Proteas and Zimbabwe was probably more relevant than its two predecessors, certainly in terms of the home side’s Vision 2019 in preparing for next year’s Cricket World Cup.
The result duly went the expected way with the Proteas completing an expected 3-0 series sweep thanks to a four-wicket victory with 4.1 overs to spare.
But the relevance came from the fact that the match was played on the sort of surface the Proteas can expect to encounter in Britain next year; that captain Faf du Plessis hit the ball as sweetly as ever on his return from injury before falling to a spectacular catch; and the Proteas were able to unveil the most likely bowling plan for their World Cup campaign.
Proteas head coach Ottis Gibson has lived, played and coached extensively in England and his astute cricket brain will have noted that World Cup hosts England are using two specialist spinners in all their matches.
Gibson has two fine wrist spinners up his own sleeve in the ageless Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi.
He gave a good idea of how he plans to use them by giving Imran the new ball today in partnership with the rejuvenated Dale Steyn.
The result is that both Steyn and Kagiso Rabada, who returned for this match in place of Lungi Ngidi, have plenty of overs in reserve for the critical second half of the innings.
Gibson has three aces in Imran, Steyn and Rabada who between them took 8 wickets at miserly cost today.
Zimbabwe, having won the toss, got themselves into a position to post a healthy total in the region of 250 to 270 thanks to a fourth wicket partnership of 73 between the experienced pair of Brendan Taylor, who went past 6 000 career runs, and Sean Williams who made top score of 69.
Zimbabwe were only three down at the halfway stage but then the three South African strike bowlers claimed a wicket each in the space of 9 overs.
There were important contributions in the field as well from Heinrich Klaasen, who made a smart stumping to remove Taylor, and Reeza Hendricks who underlined his credentials as a slip catcher with another fine effort to remove Peter Moor.
Hendricks and Aiden Markram took any stress out of the South African reply with an opening stand of 75 at a rate of six to the over before the latter was unluckily dismissed LBW.
Hendricks went on to make the main contribution of 66 before the finishing touches were applied in the main by Klaasen with a maiden half-century (59 off 67 balls, 6 fours and a six) and Khaya Zondo in a partnership of 66 off 73 balls.
Klaasen has been the pick of the South African batsmen in the series. He has made his mark as a finisher and both his average and strike rate look to be well in the ascendancy.