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Subcontinent success heightens World T20 expectations

Farhaan Behardien dives to attempt a run-out AFP

The confidence game is as much a part of professional sport as the technical game because even the best sportspeople in one country or team need reassurance that they are better than the best sportspeople in another country or team. South African cricketers have had that reassurance to some extent in the five-day game - they are the holders of the Test mace and their record in the format is enviable - but they have not had it for any sustained period of time in the shorter formats. Their major tournament record has not helped but now they are starting to build some conviction ahead of the next one.

"Momentum and confidence is a big thing in international games," David Miller said, ahead of the third T20 in Kolkata. "We came here with a lot of expectation to doing well and put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform. India are an amazing T20 side, they have got some huge players and this [performance in the T20 series] gives us a lot of confidence moving forward coming close to the World T20. We need to take confidence from this and it has been a huge confidence booster."

South Africa have won the first two T20s, giving them a second successive series win in this format in the subcontinent. Given that the World T20 will take place in these conditions, their performances in Bangladesh and India serves as a sign that they are on the right track.

Crucially, South Africa have been able to adapt both departments of their game. Their batsmen have learnt how to deal with slow, low pitches and understood that patience is not the only way. Strike rotation and partnership building have helped them post impressive totals. Their seamers have not allowed the conditions to trip them up but have continued to bang the ball in hard, have moved away from an over-reliance on the short ball, and can execute clever changes of pace. They also have a selection of spinners to choose from.

On this tour so far, they have even managed to bring their fielding back to its usual high standards after it slipped a touch during the home series against New Zealand, where numerous high catches were put down. "Our fielding in the last couple of weeks or months has not been up to standard as a team so leading up to this series we have really been working hard in the field in practicing and the last two games have been outstanding," Miller said.

Miller himself has not stood out. He has not scored an international half-century in 16 innings since the World Cup and there seems to be waning confidence from the team management in his ability to finish an innings. In the last two matches, Farhaan Behardien has been promoted above Miller, who could risk losing his place once Rilee Rossouw recovers from injury, and knows there is pressure on him to perform.

While Miller can't force more crease time if the opportunity does not present itself, he can take some inspiration from a team-mate who has found himself in a similar situation in the past, Albie Morkel. The allrounder was once touted as South Africa's answer in major tournaments but then fell off the radar and thought his international career was over until a surprise recall for this series.

Morkel worked his way back through the domestic set-up, where Miller will spend time for the Dolphins franchise once the ODIs are over and if he is diligent about it, he could find some of his own confidence coming back. "I've put in a lot of hard work over the winter but without any visions of playing for South Africa," Morkel said. "I certainly won't sit here and make statements that I should be playing, I'm just grateful for the opportunity."

Morkel seized what could be his final chance to play in a major tournament for South Africa with a career-best 3 for 12 on comeback. If anyone has reason to be confident, it's him, but he chose to play it down instead. "I understand cricket. Sometimes it's tough on the field; tonight was my night. Next game will be someone else's chance. It is, I suppose, fortunate that on my comeback I got a man of the match. That's something I'll remember forever. But I'll certainly not make any statements that I should be a permanent member."