When the Proteas left OR Tambo a fortnight ago for the Champions Trophy, the baggage of expectation they were carrying had never been as light heading into a major tournament.
And this was not only because of a cynical nation that suffered through one too many traumas with the national cricket team.
Instead, it was a genuine feeling that this new-look South African side, devoid of heavy-weight stars such as Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, were not one of the favourites for the trophy. A common belief was that perhaps in the next two years when the World Cup came around, this inexperienced side, especially the batting unit, would be ready to compete with the big boys.
Yet somewhere along the line, this message must have been conveyed to this group of greenhorns in the United Kingdom, for they have been committed to show they are not just keeping places warm but in the process managed to secure a place in Wednesday’s semi-final at The Oval.
At this stage, the Proteas’ opponents have yet to be decided, but this important fact, two days out of possibly the biggest game of their fledgling career, has not fazed these young bucks.
“We haven’t chatted about it or anything, but anyway we look at it that is out of our control, so we haven’t given it much thought. I think it is better that way. We are through and we’ll leave the stresses and worries about getting through to the other teams. Whatever comes our way, we will take it on,” said freshly-turned 24-year-old David Miller.
There is certainly a refreshing spirit blowing through this Proteas team, with accountability being most impressive.
No individual is pointing a finger at another, or waiting for a more senior team-mate to make the big play.
Colin Ingram’s half-century against the West Indies in the thrilling tie in Cardiff last Friday was a perfect example, when the makeshift opener shifted the focus away from Hashim Amla with an attacking innings of his own.
Ingram may not have pre-planned his assault on arguably the world’s most threatening one-day spin bowler, Sunil Narine, but the chutzpah with which the left-hander dispatched Narine into The River Taff filled his teammates waiting to bat back in the sheds with supreme confidence.
Miller took his cue and delivered his most influential innings since donning the green pyjamas intermittently three years ago.
Again it was not simply runs on the scoreboard that impressed, but rather the way he summed up the situation and then had the confidence to belt the ball out of the park.
“I was telling Ryan McLaren the other day that this has possibly been the most enjoyable tour I have been on,” Miller exclaimed.
“It really has been. We’re just taking each day as it comes.
“It’s been really great being in England … London and Birmingham.
“We are a young side, and really comfortable with each other, gelling on and off the field. So it’s nice to see it coming through by backing each other on and off the field. The guys are playing with lots of freedom, and it’s something we need to do more often, playing with freedom within the game plan.”
Miller’s role within the broader South African game plan is a straightforward one. He occupies “the finisher” role, whether that be when the Proteas are setting or chasing down a target. It is highly unlikely to change for Wednesday’s semifinal, so it could easily be left to him to find those much-needed winning runs like another left-hander from KwaZulu Natal, his current coach at the Dolphins Lance Klusener, had to do for South Africa in the past.
Will this expectation and extra pressure not curtail his current positive approach?
“I don’t think about it like that. I have been fortunate to play a lot of Twenty20 cricket in the off-season, where I come in towards the end of the innings. This has helped to work out my game plan. I still go according to a game plan, assess the conditions, get myself in and then when I feel like going, I back myself to do just that,” Miller explained.