It has taken South Africa a while but they have finally figured out why they were in such a spin against India in the ODI series, and they've managed to avoid falling into the same trap in the T20s.
Across the six ODIs, South Africa lost 33 wickets to Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, but with Kuldeep injured for the first two T20s, Chahal has only claimed one wicket and has conceded 103 runs.
Farhaan Behardien, Chahal's lone victim in the T20s, explained South Africa were mostly undone by the lack of pace from the Indian pair, rather than their variations. "We struggled against Kuldeep but he was in form, he took his chances, and we gave some soft wickets away. I'm not sure if we struggled to pick him. His pace has been good," Behardien said. "He has bowled a bit slower. Not too many bowlers in our country bowl that slowly. Normally, when we play on the Highveld, where wickets are quite good, you bowl at quite a flatter pace with not a lot of revs on the ball."
Behardien's assessment may sound contrary to JP Duminy's, who said after the Cape Town ODI that South Africa were not picking the wrong 'uns. Behardien admitted that Kuldeep in that game was more difficult to pick than usual. "When Kuldeep was bowling here from the Wynberg End and with the sun setting over the mountain, if you are picking it out of the hand, you can't see the seam because of the glare," Behardien said. "In that particular game it became a bit tough."
The deciding T20I will be played in similar conditions, with the Cape Town sun setting after 7pm, towards the end of the first innings. So if Kuldeep plays, South Africa will need be mindful of that. But in less harsh light, they are confident they know what to expect from Kuldeep. "He shows you a scrambled seam when he bowls his googly and when he bowls legspin, he bowls seam up," Behardien said. "That's some of the hints we have taken from video footage, from watching the games and taking to the batsmen that have played against him fairly well."
The fourth ODI at the Wanderers, which was interrupted by rain, was an example of South Africa's ability to take on spinners. While Kuldeep still accounted for Hashim Amla and Duminy, the others, notably David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen and Andile Phehlukwayo, managed to attack him and his six overs cost 51 runs. Chahal was even more expensive in that match, bowling 5.3 overs for 68 runs, and his generosity has extended into the T20s. In Johannesburg, Chahal's return was 1 for 39 in four overs; at Centurion it was 0 for 64.
Klaasen was particularly impressive in taking Chahal on, so much so that he has made a case to play alongside, rather than in place of, Quinton de Kock, when South Africa's No. 1 keeper returns. Behardien, a franchise team-mate of Klaasen's, admitted he would not be surprised if both Klaasen and de Kock feature in the future and expects Klaasen to be a part of the national squad's plans. "He has floated around that (Titans) middle order in and amongst some experienced players for the last three years so he has built up his character and his game," Behardien said.
"Mark Boucher (Titans' coach) has had an influence on the way I play and the way he plays and the way we train and it's no surprise that he has stepped up. He is a very hard character, he is a competitor, he wants to be on the stage and he wants to play for a long time. That's the way he is. He is a competitor. He has a similar competitiveness to guys like AB and Faf, guys who want to be in the fight and who wants to pick a fight with the opposition. He is not scared of that."
That bullishness is the one quality Behardien believes sets South Africa's younger crop apart from their seniors. The likes of Junior Dala and Reeza Hendricks have breathed new life into a squad that seemed spent after the ODIs. "We are a fairly young side but a lot of the guys are playing fearless cricket," Behardien said. "We don't carry that baggage from the one-day series."
South Africa have often denied being haunted by ghosts of losses past and have often been shown up as incorrect. They are a team over which these things linger. So it's refreshing to hear their new approach to exorcising demons ahead of the major competition they are planning for - next year's World Cup - and it involves calling things by tournament-style names. "Tomorrow is a big game," Behardien said. "It's a final and a chance to win a series against a really strong side."
South Africa have never reached a World Cup final or even a World T20 final but maybe the sooner they start seeing finals as just another game, the sooner they get to one.