'Our next best have got work to do' - South Africa coach Walter after the whitewash

He was happy with the batters' progress as the series went on, but said "it was an eye-opener for the bowling unit"

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Gerald Coetzee, Aiden Markram and Keshav Maharaj celebrate a wicket, South Africa vs Australia, 3rd T20I, Durban, September 03, 2023

South Africa's bowling was not up to mark in the series  •  Gallo Images/Getty Images

The South African season is only five days old but they have already seen how much work they need to do to match up to the top teams in the world.
Yes, South Africa were testing some new combinations, but they were blanked 3-0 in the T20I series by an experimental Australian side. After the third match, their white-ball coach Rob Walter admitted "our next best have got work to do".
"The game is riddled with risk," he said of the T20 format. "Sometimes it's going to pay off and other times it isn't. I was happy with the progress we made."
That statement applied specifically to the batting: after being bowled out for just 115 in the first T20I, South Africa made 164 for 8 and 190 for 8 in the second and third, respectively. But across the three matches, Reeza Hendricks was the only South Africa batter to make a half-century; Australia batters scored five, two of them by their new captain Mitchell Marsh. Still, Walter saw "some light at the end of the tunnel" in terms of how South Africa went about their innings in the third T20I, specifically in the way they recovered from 12 for 2.
But, the only newcomer to contribute with the bat was Donovan Ferreira, who struck 48 off 21 balls on debut, while Matthew Breetzke (one innings) and Dewald Brevis (two innings) scored five runs each. Brevis' much-anticipated arrival to the international stage, after he topped the run charts at last year's Under-19 World Cup, did not go as expected. He holed out in the opening game looking to clear long-off and was caught behind for a first-ball duck in the second before being benched for the third.
Walter, however, is looking forward to his future involvement with the senior side.
"Dewald didn't get many runs in his two opportunities but there is no doubting his quality and ability," he said. "The positive was to give him an opportunity to test the waters in international cricket, so he has now got a good sense of playing a good team - what does that feel like."
Breetzke, who came out to bat in the first over on Sunday - after Temba Bavuma got a first-baller - and fell trying to take on the boundary fielder, also received praise from Walter for his approach.
"Matthew didn't get many runs but it was great to give him an opportunity to make his debut," he said. "Watching him go through his work and his training throughout this series, I am excited about what he has to offer. Even his dismissal - the courage to make a play in that situation is sometimes worth more than the actual result."
Ferreira's knock was the standout as he "showed something special on debut", as Walter put it. "To play like that and to hit the ball like that - it is exciting if we have these types of players in the ranks."
South Africa's only bowling debutant was Gerald Coetzee. He has already been capped at Test and ODI level, but here he had a tough time. He picked up three wickets in as many outings but conceded 10.98 per over.
By contrast, Australia's new caps all impressed individually, starting with 21-year-old legspinner Tanveer Sangha. He took 4 for 31 on debut, barely more than 24 hours after arriving in South Africa, and was the joint second-highest wicket-taker in the series despite sitting out the second game. Matthew Short scored a match-winning 66 off 30 balls in the second match as Australia chased down a target of 165 with 31 balls to spare. Spencer Johnson took 2 for 33 in the first match and was the most economical bowler on either side in the third.
The difference in the quality of contributions from the younger players was not lost on Australia's batting coach Michael di Venuto. "Maybe our fringe players are slightly ahead of where the Proteas players are at the moment," he said, but quickly cushioned his answer with a confidence booster for the hosts. "That's not to say they can't catch up quickly. I wouldn't be panicking if I was in their dressing room."
Among the mitigating factors for South Africa appearing undercooked is that they have not played international cricket in almost five months since hosting West Indies at the end of last summer. It's oft-repeated that what takes place in training cannot replicate the intensity in the middle, and this series was further proof of that. Though South Africa's batting line-up was the most untested department, it was their bowling attack that struggled to consistently threaten Australia despite its experience.
Lungi Ngidi, the leader of the attack in the absence of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, went wicketless across the series. His variations proved ineffective as he ended up with an economy of 13.78. Lizaad Williams, Coetzee, Marco Jansen, Tabraiz Shamsi and Bjorn Fortuin all conceded more than ten an over; Aiden Markram (8.33) was the only one from the South African camp to go for less than ten. As a result, the bowling attack never looked like one that could win a series, and Walter did not shy away from that reality.
"There's no running away from it - their batting skill was better than what we had to offer with the ball," he said. "We got a hard lesson in terms of not executing our skills. It was an eye-opener for the bowling unit."
South Africa are yet to appoint a bowling coach for their white-ball outfits after using former internationals Rory Kleinveldt and Quinton Friend in bit-part capacities but Walter confirmed that Eric Simons will accompany them through the ODI series and the World Cup. Simons is a former national coach and has years of experience with Chennai Super Kings in the IPL and their franchise subsidiaries across the world, and South Africa will lean heavily on his knowledge of subcontinent conditions as they prepare for the ODI World Cup.
Their squad for the tournament will be named on Tuesday.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket