Under the guidance of one of South Africa’s brightest stars, Faf du Plessis, and new T20 coach Russell Domingo, the Proteas will enter a new era when they begin their home summer against New Zealand in the first of three T20 internationals on Friday. By ANT SIMS.
It’s somewhat unfamiliar territory for the usually conservative team: they have opted for a new-look T20 side, packed with a bunch of youngsters with a speckle of experience each.
While South Africa has dominated world cricket in the Test arena this year, their performances in the shorter formats of the game have been somewhat questionable – and that’s with some of their star names. Now a new generation of players will need to step up, and while the depth of talent in South Africa has often been touted as one of its biggest strengths, it’s never really been tested.
Until now, that is.
While there are some veteran names like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in the mix, the majority of the squad is unknown, and the pressure on Du Plessis will be immense. Du Plessis not only needs to perform as an individual, but also to test his captaincy skills. He’s by no means unfamiliar with the role, having captained in most of the teams he has played in, but when it comes to cricket – especially hit and giggle cricket, on the world stage – it becomes a whole different kettle of fish.
For players like Quinton de Kock, David Miller and Aaron Phangiso, it’s their best chance to shine. In De Kock, South Africa has a raw young talent which needs to be nudged and nurtured to ensure that, when the time comes, he can fulfil a role as wicketkeeper. This he should be able to do in all formats of the game, without having his batting go down the drain. De Kock, however, has had some discipline issues in the past, and he can often be irrational and immature with his wicket. For him to adapt to the pace of international cricket will be crucial, and he will have to feed off the energy of some of the more senior members of the squad.
Miller, meanwhile, has been in and out of the South African set-up for a while, but some solid performances for Yorkshire and the Dolphins have seen him drafted back into the mix.
Phangiso has carved a niche for himself as a crafty spinner in the shorter format, and while he might not get more than one game, he is in the prime of his career. If he can shine, South Africa might have found a “gun player”, which has become such a crucial part of T20 teams. Talk of using him in any other format is foolish, though. If the plan for the future is to focus on specialist players, then Phangiso is the poster boy for such a niche outfit. To try and alter his style purely out of desperation to plug a gap in other formats is selfish and deluded.
Cricket has progressed in the last few years, and it’s continuing to do so. Innovation and moving forward is crucial, and while many spectators and stoic snobs might not give the T20 format any sort of credit, it’s the livelihood of many franchises at domestic levels. While some coaches and players are quick to dismiss the format as a tea party, it is nonetheless here to stay – and adjusting to its pace and nuances is a must.
Domingo fulfils the niche role quite perfectly. He's no stranger to producing the goods, and his tenure with the Warriors saw him lead the side from Port Elizabeth to the domestic double and a stellar run in the 2010 Champions League.
"Gary has said to me I should run with the ball, but I always touch base with him. He is ultimately the man in charge, and I cannot deviate massively from the processes he has put in place," Domingo said.
"But I can do things differently and in my own way. To not tap into Gary's thought process and his brain will be foolish on my part."
Tap into Kirsten’s brain Domingo might do, but it is equally important for the former Warriors coach to recognise himself as being in charge – the talent pool at his disposal runs deep and his skills as a tactician know no bounds.
New Zealand has had a torrid time leading up to the series, with management issues and injuries all forcing them to resort to a bunch of rookies of their own. Their head-to-head record against South Africa is poor, but they’re no mugs.
In a warm-up match on Tuesday, the New Zealanders triumphed over the South African A side, notching up a 24-run victory with unknown Mitchell McClenaghan and spinner Ronnie Hira each bagging three wickets.
The T20 format can be callous, and since they have little chance of achieving much in the Test series, the Black Caps might just be a little bit more motivated for the T20s. As such, the Proteas will have to guard against even a hint of complacency. DM
Photo: Faf du Plessis (Reuters)