Arthur's World Cup plans on track
South Africa clinched an unprecedented third consecutive one-day series victory over Australia, but coach Mickey Arthur's sights are set higher. As driven as was to seal victory in Port Elizabeth on Monday - thereby seizing and unassailable 3-1 lead heading into the series finale in Johannesburg - Arthur was equally eager to consolidate plans for the World Cup; a prize that has thus far eluded the South Africans.
Arthur has begun experimenting with his playing roster ahead of the 2011 tournament, and is excited that his unconventional move to field three spinners - Johan Botha, Roelof van der Merwe and part-timer JP Duminy - has paid dividends against the Australians. Combined, the South African slow bowlers have claimed ten wickets in the series, but more pertinently, have conceded runs at barely four per over for the mostpart.
With the next World Cup to be staged on the turning tracks of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and possibly Pakistan, Arthur is hopeful the move to play three spinners could pay dividends in two years' time. And with Wayne Parnell forming a youthful and effective pace partnership with Dale Steyn, the South African coach believes he is close to settling on an attack capable of adapting to all conditions.
"It's looking good at the moment" Arthur told Cricinfo prior to the match in Port Elizabeth. "We have changed our brand to a certain degree, with a couple of young players now entering the scene. We have played two spinners - three when you count JP - which could be handy on the subcontinent.
"We also have four seamers, which gives Graeme [Smith] seven bowling options, and with Parnell, we bat all the way to No. 10. It's a very good side. Time will tell how good it can be. We're happy with the balance we have at the moment, and we're pretty excited about where this team can go."
South Africa's 61-run victory at St George's Park ensured them a unique place in the record books. Smith's men have become the first team to win three consecutive bi-lateral limited overs series against Australia; a streak that dates back to 2006 and their record 438 run chase at the Wanderers.
The South Africans claimed that series 3-2, and the recent five-game set in Australia 4-1. The win in Port Elizabeth not only sealed victory in the return series at home, but also took their tally to six wins from their past seven matches against the Australians and further extended their lead atop the one-day international rankings.
"We're really proud of what we have accomplished," Arthur said. "We've enjoyed the match-up with Australia. It's been tight and we have been up to challenge almost every time."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo