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