Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
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The decline of South Africa's men's team is not quite as bad as many may think, according to first-choice white-ball spinner Tabraiz Shamsi. Speaking after South Africa reeled off a third successive T20I series win, Shamsi pleaded for patience and understanding as the national side seeks to win the country's hearts and minds following a two-year period of inconsistent form and off-field drama.
While South Africa have not played any Tests in the next World Test Championship cycle, are in a precarious position on the World Cup Super League and are not considered among the favourites for the T20 World Cup, they are rebuilding as a unit and Shamsi believes they will only get better with time.
"We're on a run of consecutive series so I don't think this team is rubbish. I think we are quite good," Shamsi said. "People speak about the great teams of the past. This team is on par with them.We might not have as many household names because we haven't played that much international cricket. It doesn't mean the players are not that good, just because they are not well known."
In this series, Bjorn Fortuin is one of the players who has had, and taken, an opportunity to come to the fore but the spotlight has been on fairly popular names, albeit maybe not in the shortest format. Keshav Maharaj, who was seen to be more of a red-ball specialist, has stepped up in shorter formats and has even led the team in Temba Bavuma's injury-enforced absence. And Aiden Markram, whose name is attached to the Test side and struggles against spin in equal parts, has debunked both those myths and showed off personal improvement and a versatility of skill that could see him regarded as a genuine allrounder in white-ball cricket.
Markram bowled a full quota of four overs for the first time in Sunday's win - and bagged a career-best 3 for 21 - to add to South Africa's spin options, which look more plentiful than ever before. "We are bowling so many overs of spin because we have that many quality spinners. That's been very nice," Shamsi said. "Maybe in the past, when we got to spinning wickets, we had a reluctance in picking spinners so that's been a refreshing change. We are picking teams according to the conditions and we have the players to back it up. We have three quality spinners in the side, plus Aiden, and it means the captain can utilise me in different ways."
Rather than operate solely as an attacking spinner, Shamsi now sees himself as someone who can also hold an end. "I've realised my role is quite floaty. In the past I would be disappointed if I didn't pick up wickets. I've realised I don't always have to take wickets to influence the team. If people are playing me cautiously, I have the ability to bowl a cheaper spell," he said.
But there are few things that get him going quite as much as the feeling of adding to his wicket-tally, especially as he remains the leading T20I wicket-taker in 2021. He also took three in the match that clinched that series and enjoyed Dasun Shanaka's the most, largely because the Sri Lankan attack had smoked him for six the ball before the dismissal.
"The emotions that go through your mind when someone smokes you like that… I don't think I can use the words going on in my head. But to be able to get the person out after that, that gives you a lot of satisfaction," Shamsi said. "The biggest change that came in my game is when I realised getting hit for six is part and parcel of my job. There's no embarrassment. If a guy hits me for a six, he hits me for a six, but I am coming back for him."
South Africa play one more match in Sri Lanka before a break as some players head to the IPL and others back home for a new domestic T20 knockout competition. They will regroup in October ahead of the T20 World Cup and even though few expect them to break their trophy drought, Shamsi said they are doing everything to represent the country as best as they can. "It's South Africa's team, it's the people's team. We are not playing for ourselves. I don't have my picture here on (the protea) badge," he said. "It's our country and all of us are trying to make people proud. We are going to make mistakes but we are freaking sweating here in the sun to try and get results."