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Feature

Five things we learned about South Africa from their series win over England

With the T20 World Cup looming, the performances of Hendricks, Stubbs, Ngidi and others have made the selectors' job exceedingly tricky

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
01-Aug-2022
Reeza Hendricks needed 42 balls to get to fifty, England vs South Africa, 3rd T20I, Southampton, July 31, 2022

Reeza Hendricks was the leading run-getter in the series against England, but is there room for him in South Africa's T20 World Cup squad?  •  AFP/Getty Images

South Africa have five more T20Is to play before the World Cup, but just two more in which to finalise their squad (their three in India in October come just before the tournament) and there's no better place to assess themselves from than the perch of a series win. From Rilee Rossouw's comeback from Kolpak to Andile Phehlukwayo's comeback from concussion, South Africa demonstrated what stand-in captain David Miller gleefully referred to as "great bouncebackability and character", and found match-winners in different individuals.
Only 15 can go to the T20 World Cup, though, and performances over the last 12 months mean South Africa will find themselves with several selection conundrums, though Miller doesn't mind. "Its a great healthy space to be in," he said. "We'd rather have those headaches than having no options."
With matches to play against Ireland in Bristol next week, we take a look at the main talking points ahead of the World Cup squad selection and some of those who've made strong cases to be included.
Reeza Hendricks' hot streak
In an opening partnership so often headlined by Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks does not often get to stand out but in his series, he has. Hendricks reeled off three successive half-centuries to finish as the leading run-scorer in the series ahead of much more well-known names on either side including the returning Rossouw and England's man of the summer Jonny Bairstow. And he did it without much bludgeoning but with plenty of class. Hendricks is a smooth timer of the ball, has quick wrists, and is speedy between the wickets. He brings a sense of calm to the crease and allows the bigger hitters, like Rossouw, to bat around him, and on form should be part of the T20 World Cup group. Bur the reality is that Hendricks has often been a reserve. It's only the ninth time in South Africa's 18 series since 2018 that Hendricks has had the opportunity to play in all the matches in a series, and South Africa may need to start asking themselves why. The answer lies in the top-order bottleneck in the squad, and that will only become more complicated when Temba Bavuma returns from injury.
Stubbs a shoo-in for the World Cup
There's been plenty of hype around Tristan Stubbs - that's what an IPL contract will do for you - and he lived up to it in this series. Stubbs is a big hitter in the truest sense of the words and has the power and the shots to clear the boundary. He is fearless against spin - long considered a weakness among South African batters - and earned the praise of Moeen Ali for being a "very, very good player". With David Miller and Stubbs in the middle order, South Africa could have a threatening pair of finishers for the T20 World Cup, with the potential of more to come. They've so far resisted the urge to pick Under-19 World Cup record-breaker Dewald Brevis (who has yet to play a domestic first-class or List A game) but Dale Steyn reckons that in Stubbs and Brevis, the next decade of South Africa's batting is safe.
The case for Phehlukwayo
Dwaine Pretorius has proved his ability when there's seam movement on offer but Phehlukwayo offers South Africa a point of difference when it comes to selecting one seam-bowling allrounder in their T20I XI. Given the pace of South Africa's other specialist quicks, Phehlukwayo's testing length - back of a good length but not short enough to be short - and his cutters are good variations to have in the attack. His challenge is consistency and he will want to to be able to string together several solid performances to secure the allrounder spot He didn't get much opportunity to bat in this series but has shown he has big-match temperament in the past and a good return against Ireland could help him seal a spot in the T20 World Cup squad.
Ngidi to lead the attack?
It seems impossible that Lungi Ngidi will warm the bench at this T20 World Cup, as he did in the previous one, after the way he has performed in the last few months. He only played in two of the five T20Is in India, and only bowled 4.3 overs, but was the leading wicket-taker among the fast bowlers in the England series. Ngidi, like Phehlukwayo, has a mix of slower balls at his disposal but can also turn up the heat to 140kph-plus, and has proved particularly difficult to get away, boasting an economy rate of 6.53 and an average of 7.81 this year. He is noticeably more agile in the field now, has been installed at backward point on occasion, and took two fabulous catches to dismiss Jonny Bairstow in the second T20I and Jos Buttler in the third. With Kagiso Rabada having two quiet series, Ngidi has stepped up and could be the bowler to lead South Africa's quicks over the next few months.
Shamsi still has it
After being spooked by short, straight boundaries in Bristol, Tabraiz Shamsi stormed back to finish as the series' leading wicket-taker by trusting in his own game. Instead of rushing through deliveries and bowling quickly and flat, Shamsi returned to the fuller, slower approach that has worked for him in the past and it paid off. Shamsi grew more confident as the series went on, after he was reminded of what he was capable of by his team-mates.
Miller said there were no major discussions over what went wrong in the first game but emphasis was placed on how Shamsi has elevated himself to the best in the world. "There were one or two pointers to remind him what he can do and what he is capable of, to build up his confidence rather than tell him what to do," Miller said. "He knows what to do. You don't want to harp too much on the negative but mention what his strengths are and remind him what he is capable of."
Shamsi remains focused on the dual role of wicket-taking and holding the game, as South Africa's attack evolves from all-out pace to greater variety. "There was a big talk about Immi [Imran Tahir] retiring and I was expected to fill his shoes but I don't see things that way," Shamsi said. "Sometimes the captain wants me to hold the game. I don't see it as a disappointing game if I don't take wickets. We are all capable of taking wickets. We are also all capable of holding the game." The return to Bristol will be a great test to see how he does.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent