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Cricket news - Winning is the only big picture that matters for South Africa

"It's a professional sport and we want to win." - Nkwe

"It's a professional sport and we want to win." - Nkwe

Enoch Nkwe has been part of South Africa's dressing room since September, first as interim team director then as assistant coach. He's been involved for 24 matches spread across six series. But only five of those games have been won, and none of those rubbers have been claimed. The team's last engagement before Nkwe came aboard was the 2019 World Cup, where South Africa lost five of their eight completed games. The steady drip of defeat must be getting to him and the rest of Mark Boucher's coaching staff, not to mention the players?

"We always think about every game we play but we also understand that in this process it's important that we master the fundamentals and we get the right type of formula," Nkwe said on Tuesday. "It's a professional sport and we want to win. But if it doesn't happen and we've played in the way we want to play, then it's a win. We've got a lot of new players and we have created a platform for them to try and find the right formula. It's ideal to win series but the big picture is more important. By the time we get to the West Indies [in July for three Tests and five T20Is] it's important that we find something special as a team and we understand how each other tick. We are making sure we focus on detail."

Ah. The big picture argument. We've heard it before and doubtless we'll hear it again. And it is unconvincing every time. Teams never resort to it when they win. Because winning is its own proof that the plan is working and does not need defending. Even if the plan isn't working as well as hoped, winning dulls doubts and quells questions. Winning is not the most important measure of success: it's the only measure.

South Africa proved that to themselves at St George's Park on Sunday, when they held their nerve with knuckles white to win the second T20I against Australia by a dozen runs. Asked to defend 20 off the last two overs, and with David Warner well set on 65, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje conceded only seven. Vociferous support from a bumper crowd didn't hurt, as Rabada confirmed on Monday: "The atmosphere was electric. That was the first time in a while that I've felt the crowd. I've always felt the supporters in PE are extremely supportive, whether we win or lose. It was almost a sell-out and the band was playing, and you felt we're in this together."

Rabada shouldn't kid himself. The crowd went home exponentially happier than they would have had South Africa lost, and they are far more likely to return because the team they supported won. Ask anyone who was at the Wanderers on Friday how much better they felt about South Africa being dismissed for a record low T20I total of 89 - and suffering their biggest defeat, by 107 runs - because Rabada launched two sixes. The answers will not be pretty.

It only added to South Africa's victory in Port Elizabeth that they were able to right themselves two days after getting everything so wrong in Johannesburg. "We were honest with ourselves after Joburg," Nkwe said. "We had some deep, honest chats in PE in terms of where we're at as a squad. After such a poor performance, we accepted that we let ourselves down. The nice thing about this [schedule] is that it doesn't give you that much time to dwell on negatives. It's a matter of mindset change. In the last few overs [at St George's Park] there was pressure for the bowlers and they responded beautifully." What effect had taking a game from opponents who would have expected to win affected his team? "It has given us much more confidence." Exactly. There is no bigger picture than winning.

Warner didn't try and duck that truth in his assertion about Wednesday's deciding T20I at Newlands: "A series win means the world to us, and that's what this game's about." But it was the only nugget of reality he offered when he was asked three times in various friendly ways by his team's media manager what it felt like to be back at the ground where the 2018 ball-tampering scandal derailed his career for a year. Here's Warner's first stab at an answer: "It's great. It's a lovely place. I've been overwhelmed by the support we've had from the fans. Port Elizabeth was outstanding. The fans were very respectful. We didn't cop anything on the fence. The kids were yelling out for autographs and we obliged, as we always do." His second attempt was similarly unsatisfactory: "It's if not the most picturesque ground in the world. The ground's always in good condition. We've had good success here as a team and as an individual. I'm champing at the bit to get out there along with the rest of the guys." And the third: "The past is the past and now you've got to focus on what's ahead, and that's this game. Focus on that and then move forward to the next series we play."

There it is again: the big picture, fuzzy focus and all.

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