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SA get rid of all their past ghosts

THE World Cup is still seven months and more than 20 one-day internationals away for SA, but AB de Villiers believes his team turned a corner when they made history in Hambantota on Saturday.

De Villiers’ men won by 82 runs to clinch South Africa’s first ever ODI series in Sri Lanka. Better yet, he said, they exorcised some of the demons of SA’s past.

“You’ve got to get that confidence going within yourself before you can start proving people wrong or right,” De Villiers said.

“That was the biggest step – for us to start believing in ourselves as a team. We just never gave up.

“When the nonsense hit the fan we didn’t run. We were there, sticking together. That’s the one area in which we have changed as a team, and that is not to fade away once the pressure is on.”

The Proteas won the first match of the series by 75 runs in Colombo last Sunday, only to crash to defeat by 87 runs in Pallekele on Wednesday.

On Saturday, SA made the most of a willing pitch, scoring 339-5 – their highest total against the Lankans at any venue – and then reeled the home side back from 107-1 in the 12th over to dismiss them for 257 in the 45th. Quinton de Kock and De Villiers each scored centuries, and Ryan McLaren took three wickets.

“Like in many other sports, it’s all about confidence,” De Villiers said. “You’ve got to go out and back what game plans you have.

“This sends out a statement of what we can achieve; not only for everyone out there but for ourselves as well, which is the most important thing.”

SA have gone to most tournaments they have contested as one of the favourites, but only once – at the 1998 Wills International Cup in Bangladesh, the forerunner of the Champions Trophy – have they emerged with the trophy.

Almost every other time they have imploded and found a way to beat themselves. The three matches in Sri Lanka cannot be written up as conclusive evidence that SA have learnt all their lessons and will therefore go to next year’s World Cup in Australasia a transformed team.

But the way they absorbed pressure in conditions where they had previously won just five of their 21 ODIs against all comers spoke of progress.

“We like the challenges even though we don’t always win the challenges,” De Villiers said.

“We like the pressure situations, and the way we handled it today is what the team is about.”

For their next trick, SA will try to win their first Test series in Sri Lanka since 1993 in a two-match rubber that starts in Galle on Wednesday.

The Proteas last won a Test in Sri Lanka in Kandy in 2000.

They have never been victorious in a Test in Galle, where they lost in 2000 and drew in 2004.

But, after Saturday in Hambantota, that does not matter quite so much.

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