Faf du Plessis has encouraged fans to "relax" when considering South Africa's transformation policy, now that the team has showed they can win with it in place. Since the targets - which require the national team to field a minimum of six players of colour on an average, including two black Africans over the course of a season - were announced in early September , South Africa have played six ODIs and won all of them, while also nearly meeting their transformation requirements.
Across the ODIs - one against Ireland and five against Australia - South Africa's average was just under their target of six players of colour, and they fielded at least two black Africans in every game. Their XI included seven players of colour against Ireland, with four black Africans, five players of colour in three of the five ODIs against Australia, and six in the other two. They will have the opportunity to make up for the shortfall in later matches this season.
"People will relax now and see that it's not that bad. People were expecting big changes and big defeats, but now, people can relax and see there is enough talent, no matter what colour you are," du Plessis said. "Our cricket is in a healthy state. People can be confident that even with those targets, we are a force to be reckoned with."
One of the concerns with implementing the targets was that it would affect the balance of the team, but JP Duminy's return to form, and the unearthing of Andile Phehlukwayo and Tabraiz Shamsi have meant that South Africa had all bases covered in the series. Perhaps, reassuringly, while the players of colour proved themselves in this series, there was also enough room for white players, too, to show their worth. Phehlukwayo, in his first international series, was the leading wicket-taker, Duminy returned to form with two important half-centuries, and Shamsi is putting his hand up as a successor to Imran Tahir. Rilee Rossouw, previously on the fringes of the side, and David Miller, who had been dropped, also had stand-out showings in a series in which South Africa's inclusivity did not go unnoticed.
Du Plessis confirmed the team has "embraced" the transformation targets, especially now that the specifics are in the public domain. "We try and embrace it. The positive is that it is open and there is a honest policy out there. Everyone knows what it's all about and everyone can buy into it. As long as you are open and honest, you can move forward," he said.
Prior to September, South Africa insisted there were no targets at the national level, although they unofficially aimed to include four players of colour in an XI. That was evident at the 2015 World Cup when Vernon Philander was brought into the team in place of Kyle Abbott despite missing large swathes of the tournament due to injury. This happened after the coach and captain met with the CEO, who reminded them to pick the best team with transformation guidelines in mind. The fall-out from that incident hung over South African cricket for many months, during which performances slipped.
Last summer, South Africa tumbled from No.1 to No.6 in the Test rankings, were booted out of the World T20 in the first round, and appeared a spent force. Pressure grew on coach Russell Domingo, whose contract is in place until April next year, and it was expected he would be replaced. However, a team culture camp before this series rejuvenated the players and coaches, and du Plessis credited Domingo for his resilience at a tough time.
"As a squad, we made a huge transition when we went away and had a hard look at ourselves, and the coaches were part of it. They were really eager to try and improve themselves, and since that day, they have been brilliant. Russell has stepped his game up, he is challenging people and players now, and the coaching staff are demanding more from players," du Plessis said. "It's important we don't take that for granted because we have an extremely tough Test tour of Australia coming up. I accept that we won't win every series, but it's important for us to know what we need to do to be at our best. Russell has been really good. There was a lot of pressure on them after the West Indies tri-series and that's normal. You get that when a team doesn't perform, but full credit must go to him for how he has stepped up."
South Africa will shift from limited-overs to Tests and will play six in succession - three in Australia and three at home against Sri Lanka - in a bid to climb up the rankings again. The first Test in Australia starts on November 3 in Perth.