Pakistan v South Africa, 2nd T20, Dubai November 14, 2013

Du Plessis' No. 1 goal

Cricketers tell us the rankings are just numbers, especially in limited-overs formats, where the only thing that really matters is victory in a global event. But Faf du Plessis has found some significance in the digits and placed emphasis on South Africa summiting the T20 mountain before next year's World Twenty20.

"We've set a goal for ourselves to try and get to number one by the time the tournament starts. Then you have the confidence and momentum in your side," he said. "I don't expect us to compete in a tournament if we're ranked number five or six. That means you are inconsistent. If you get to number one it means there's a lot of consistency in your side."

South Africa are currently fifth but a 2-0 series win against Pakistan will leapfrog them into second place. After Friday's match in Dubai, they will play two more fixtures against Pakistan and three against Australia in March next year. They will have to win all of those matches and hope the current leaders, Sri Lanka slip up against either New Zealand or Pakistan somewhere along the way in order for South Africa to go top.

The actual mathematics of how they plan to get there will become clearer once the results of other series are known but the point remains. Du Plessis' reference is more about registering regular wins than the actual position and it indicates that South Africa's T20 squad, after all the shaking and stirring, is starting to settle.

South Africa are drawing a line under the period of experimentation that has seen 12 players make their debuts since February last year. There have been three opening batsmen - Richard Levi, Quinton de Kock and Henry Davids - two middle-order batsmen, including the new captain - Farhaan Behardien and du Plessis - a third wicketkeeper, alongside AB de Villiers and de Kock - Dane Vilas - three quick bowlers - Marchant de Lange, Kyle Abbott and Chris Morris - two spinners - Aaron Phangiso and Imran Tahir - and an allrounder, David Wiese.

The only two to have nailed down a regular spot from that what-a-lot-I-got selection are du Plessis and de Kock. The pair batted South Africa to victory in the first T20 against Pakistan in Dubai and are at the start of the solidifying process.

De Kock has matured from the carelessly flashy youngster who first appeared on the scene into someone who knows how to construct an innings. At the top of the order, he is now the constant, with the choice still to be made between Hashim Amla and Davids. De Kock also frees up de Villiers - who was also toyed with as an opener for a while - from the gloves to unburden South Africa's ODI captain.

What it took to get de Kock this far was nothing more complicated than a bit of time and a lot of work. The step up from domestic success to an international career can only be made through learning and de Kock was willing to do that. Now, he fits in. "He's making sure he's batting for long periods of time and affecting the game," du Plessis said. "He's confident in the team and his whole game has improved. He's much more comfortable in the group."

Du Plessis himself has had to do a bit of the same. Having struggled through a lean patch in Sri Lanka, which spilled over into the first half of the ODI series against Pakistan, he was under pressure to keep his place. A fifty in one of the ODIs and a solid showing in the first T20 has helped ease the concern but there is still work to be done.

What he has shown, along with the rest of South Africa's batting, is improvement. "In the first two one-dayers, our batting wasn't gelling and we were giving away too many wickets and not batting with too much structure and gameplan. Now we're doing that really well," he said.

And with that improvement comes the chance to pick the same group of people over and over again because they do the job. And the more players have faith in them, the more confident they are in their own ability and that is how a team forms. Finally, South Africa's T20 side is on its way to becoming one and that should be the case whether or not they reach No. 1 before the World T20. "If you understand your roles, you will be the best you can be," du Plessis said. "In T20s, we're on the right path."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sam on November 20, 2013, 4:21 GMT

    Unlike most people who believe SA never won a world cup because they choke I believe they never won a world cup because they were never good enough except one exception in the 1999 World Cup where they were best team and they committed hara-kiri with that runout at the end. In 1992 scoring 22 in 7 balls would have been impossible and England and Pakistan were better team then them; in 1996 even though they were unbeaten in group stage they were in the easier group and clearly SL was far stronger than them; in 2003 both India and of course looked better than them; in 2007 again Australia was far superior and in 2011 both India and SL looked better than them even though SA did beat India. As I have said before I believe the world cup has been won by deserving and the best team every time since 1992 except 1999 when SA were the best team but tied the semi-final as a result of their nervousness and bowed out of the competition in the semi-finals.

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2013, 19:53 GMT

    Rankings in T20 is on a very small stats hence it can swing the other way very fast. As for Pakistanis a team consisting of Hafeez, Malik, Afridi will always find it difficult to win. They keep doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result

  • I on November 15, 2013, 12:49 GMT

    Whatever Faf. It's ludicrous to put value of rankings in T20. Just look at the last match, Pakistan are #2 and played like #0. If you're focussing on ascending the rankings, then you're not showing a lot of cricketing acumen. Unless of course you're getting some kind of bonus package for the two quickfire wins or whatever supposedly says you're best in the world at T20. We should get rid of rankings for limited over formats. If there's not a proper league, then it's pointless

  • Karabo Obakeng on November 15, 2013, 3:40 GMT

    @nitinsachdeva__South Africa and Africa are not synonymous mate.

  • Nitin on November 15, 2013, 2:15 GMT

    most reliable teams today, India on home ground and Africa anywhere

  • Md on November 15, 2013, 0:07 GMT

    Sri Lanka will beat NZ and Pakistan. Just a day dream.

  • Dummy4 on November 14, 2013, 23:18 GMT

    Do they think Pakistan will like going down in the ranking ( yes :) or :( no ) i wonder how much hard work they are putting in for playing against Pakistan and how much efforts Pakistan players are making considering the coach is already given the official order of not continuing with this team under his coaching once his tenure ends. Pakistan players selection for ODI's is just not on merit and players are selected from on personal interests of individuals however T20 selection is quiet fair except for few though considering PCB officials way of handling things is letting this team down. All in all to be fair to SA's and sadly the state of PCB managing its affairs they cant really test their true potential against Pakistan team for anything at this time. So its just rather playing with numbers and not a team , sorry to see such a mess being created intentionally within PCB and by other institutions of Pakistan state.

  • Khehla on November 14, 2013, 17:32 GMT

    As nice it is to have the No.1 tag next your name it is rather worthless in the shorter formats. I'd easily forgo the No.1 ranking for an ICC trophy. We're very good in bilateral competitions but we always come undone in tournament (excluding the 1998 CT). Win in Bangladesh Faf and remove ever so slightly the C-tag associated with us.

  • yuvraj on November 14, 2013, 16:39 GMT

    Surely we can achieve that. Our next 3 t20s against Pak. If we win all of them, we can definitely take the No.1 spot from Sri lanka.

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