We haven’t played international cricket for about four months, and that’s a huge break; it’s unheard of,” Tabraiz Shamsi explained. © Getty

Of the 148 days since South Africa’s men’s team were last on the field, in an ODI against the Netherlands at the Wanderers on April 2, Australia have played on 28. The Aussies have batted for 1,099.1 overs and been in the field for 777.

In all that’s 1,876.1 overs. Or 11,257 deliveries faced and bowled while the South Africans haven’t been in the same dressing room once. They gathered in Pretoria on Wednesday to make their final preparations for three T20Is against Australia at Kingsmead from Wednesday to Sunday.

“We haven’t played international cricket for about four months and that’s a huge break; it’s unheard of,” Tabraiz Shamsi told a press conference in Durban on Monday. “Huge credit must go to the coaches. We’ve had four or five camps behind the scenes to keep the boys going and that takes a lot of work to organise.

“We were put through our paces.” These black rings under my eyes aren’t normal. It’s due to a lack of sleep. We’ve worked very hard and are well prepared. There is nothing we can criticize. It is our responsibility to get out there and do our work.”

However, the disparity in the number of competitive cricket played by the sides is not as great as it appears. Since April 2, Australia has played 28 days of Tests against India and England, all of which have taken place in England. That is not at all like a T20I series versus South Africa at Kingsmead.

Australia’s most recent T20I came against Afghanistan on November 4 in Adelaide as part of the T20 World Cup. On March 28, South Africa faced the West Indies at the Wanderers. Australia have gone 298 days without playing a match in the shortest format, nearly double South Africa’s 154-day hiatus.

Only Mitchell Marsh and Travis Head are in Durban after playing in the Ashes, their most recent engagement in any format. Only five of their T20 World Cup squad of 15 have made the journey for the T20Is: Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Tim David, Matthew Wade, and Adam Zampa.

Aiden Markram, Reeza Hendricks, Tristan Stubbs, Marco Jansen, Bjorn Fortuin, Sisanda Magala, Lungi Ngidi, and Tabraiz Shamsi are among the eight South Africans selected for the Windies series. Nonetheless, Quinton de Kock, Heinrich Klaasen, Wayne Parnell, Kagiso Rabada, and Anrich Nortje were rested. This has opened up spots for uncapped Dewald Brevis, Matthew Breetzke, and Donovan Ferreira, as well as Gerald Coetzee, who has played two Tests and two ODIs but no T20Is.

“We don’t see the new guys coming into the squad as junior players,” Tabraiz explained. “Any of those guys is capable of winning a game or two for us on their own.” Shamsi stated that the newcomers were warmly welcomed: “The environment is awesome.”

“Why would South Africa be considered an underdog against anyone?” Consider the caliber of our athletes. We’ve rested a few senior players, but the replacements are not weak links. We respect our opponents, no matter who they are or how good they are, but we are not underdogs against any team in the world.”

So the scenario is complicated, made more so by the abundance of franchise cricket played since South Africa last took the field. In August, seven Australians from the T20I squad were in action. Four of them last played in July, and one each in May, April, and March. Three members of South Africa’s team have played this month. Five

Not that the T20I series will be the most important. It is overshadowed by the five One-Day Internationals (ODIs) they will play from September 7 to 17, South Africa’s final matches in the format before the World Cup in India in October and November. From September 22 to 27, the Australians will play three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) against the tournament hosts in India.

“You’re not going to win the World Cup in South Africa,” Head said at a press conference in Durban on Monday. You’ll win it in India by the end of November. So it’s critical that we connect well as a group, look after each other, have fun, enjoy each other’s company, train well, and play well. Those are the five games.

Did this imply that the T20Is were dress rehearsals for the ODIs, which were themselves dress rehearsals for the World Cup? “It doesn’t feel like that to me, and the way the coaches have been putting us through our paces, it doesn’t seem like it feels like that to them either,” Shamsi says.

“We’re playing a series against Australia, who are a very good team, as are we.” When the Australians arrive, we know everyone is ready. We cannot afford to overlook the World Cup. It’s a big deal, and it’s approaching, but it hasn’t seemed like we just have to get through the T20I series.

“We don’t want to look too far ahead to the World Cup.”