Faf du Plessis' form has helped to make South Africa's trip north across the Limpopo river a very pleasant one. With his 121 today, du Plessis has now registered three centuries in his last four ODIs, to go with two fifties in the Bulawayo ODIs and a 98 in the Test match here a month ago. His captain, AB de Villiers, rightly believes that du Plessis is in the best form of his international career, and that South Africa have their No.3 slot locked down in one-day cricket.
"It's certainly the best form he's shown at international level, but I've always known that he was capable of doing that," de Villiers said. "So it's great to see him coming through like that, and at a crucial time. Leading up to a big World Cup, it's great to have our No.3 slot cemented down now by a guy who's in great form and a guy with a great cricket brain. He played exceptionally well again today, in a tricky situation against Zimbabwe again. It set us up nicely for a good ODI win."
De Villiers was also pleased that his middle order was able to build on du Plessis' efforts, with Rilee Rossouw finally off his international duck and JP Duminy registering his first limited-overs fifty of the tour.
"It was good to see Rilee get in today and get 30 and bowl a couple of overs. We laid the foundation up front there, and it freed up the middle order a little bit. It's difficult to go three or four down early in the innings and expect them to fix everything, which we've done in the past. So to get a nice foundation laid out for us like that always frees up the middle order to really showcase their talents."
South Africa tinkered slightly with their line-up in this game, leaving Imran Tahir out of the side in order to bring Rossouw in, and replacing the injured Ryan McLaren with Wayne Parnell. De Villiers explained that their thinking had been to bat Zimbabwe out of the game, while the McLaren-Parnell swap was clearly a straightforward one.
"It was just the situation we were confronted with because of the whole bonus point issue and this and that," de Villiers said. "We felt it was really important to get runs on the board, which worked exceptionally well. We sort of batted them out of the game and that's exactly what we were after.
"Macky [McLaren] is an amazing performer for us and he has been for quite some time now so it's sad to lose him, but in the same breath, Parny [Parnell] is a very capable replacement. No one is irreplaceable. We know Macky will be back in three or four weeks' time and he'll come straight back into the side, but for now we've got more than enough depth to fill that spot. Parny showed today - he had a very good game, I was very impressed with his bowling. We all know what he can offer with the bat. He can score a few at the end there. It was a straight swap for me, no panic stations there."
This match was South Africa's last against Zimbabwe until the World Cup in Australia next year, where they will be in the same group. De Villiers suggested that despite their growing pains, Zimbabwe remained a dangerous one-day side and although the South Africans would make an effort to mingle with their hosts before departing, they were not about to offer too many tips to a side that could prove a handful on their day.
"They're still a dangerous team with lots of talent. They're obviously still working on a few things, trying to get a few things in place. Leading up the World Cup as well, I think all the teams are focusing on that now. There's absolutely nothing wrong with Zimbabwe's cricket. I think they've got a lot of talent, they just need to get the combinations in place, and a few other things. Get their batters in the runs. They've got all the talent in the world, they just need to get into the runs. That's what it comes down to.
"We have not had a lot of time to mingle but I have spoken to a few of them - Brendan Taylor is one, we go a long way back. At the end of the day we're playing them in the World Cup so you don't want to share too much. We're good friends with a few of them, but cricketing wise we're playing them in the World Cup so we don't want to share too many things. There's more than enough time for socialising after the Aussie game - Brendan has already told me that a few of them will be coming to watch. They're after all our neighbours in Africa so we're huge supporters of their cricket. Just not in the World Cup."