Cricket: 2015’s road ahead for the Proteas

Cricket: 2015’s road ahead for the Proteas

This is one of the most important years in South African cricket to date. A trip to India, hosting England and transformation are all key points to consider as the team looks to rebuild itself, following yet another failure at the World Cup. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

South Africa’s 2015 World Cup ended more abruptly than a good dream disturbed by a buzzing alarm clock. After the highs and lows of the group stages, the emphatic victory in the quarterfinals and the tense semi-final, having the adrenaline IV plucked from the vein seemed to leave more questions than answers. Add to that the furore over Vernon Philander’s selection, allegedly at the behest of board members, feverishly denied by the powers that be, and swirled around in the media without any concrete answers. It all feels a bit like unfinished business.

There has been little time for a debrief. With the Indian Premier League starting on Wednesday, a whistle stop at home before many jetted off for the hit-and-giggle competition is all they have had time for. While some of South Africa’s stalwarts gallivant across India, the powers that be have to sit back, take stock and consider the future, both in the short and the long term.

South Africa has a busy year ahead. Their next international assignment is only in July, when they tour to Bangladesh. With the domestic season done and dusted, there is little time to assess the form of potential talents before they head off to the subcontinent. For short-term planning, the next eight months are crucial. With Alviro Petersen out of the picture, South Africa will have to find their next Test opener. Signs point to Stiaan van Zyl taking over the role, while Quinton de Kock is likely to slot in lower down the order. He had taken over opening duties for the A-team and for the Cobras towards the end of the first-class season. The results were mixed, but he does have a century against the Dolphins in a losing cause to show for it. The spin role in the Test team also remains up for grabs. Good as Imran Tahir is in limited overs, it’s hard to see him cracking the nod at Test level after continuous failures in the longest format of the game. The tussle is between Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer, and with two sub-continental tours on the cards, the spinner’s role will be more critical than usual.

For those who miss out on the squad selection to Bangladesh, there is an A-team tour to India in July and August to stake a claim for the long summer ahead, where South Africa will host New Zealand in a one-day series and England in a full series. Snuggled in between is a visit for the Proteas to India. The Tests against India and England undoubtedly hold the most relevance. As the number one-ranked Test team, South Africa have a standard to uphold and a new era to transition into.

For the one-day team, the task becomes much tougher. Bilateral one-day tours hold little to no significance outside of a World Cup year, and South Africa have to start thinking long-term. The core of the squad who featured at this year’s jamboree are unlikely to feature at another World Cup. Starting with the bowlers, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel will all most likely be past their best when the next tournament swings around. That is not to say that it is impossible to make it – Steyn is the oldest, turning 32 in a few months – but with the demands international schedules place on players, it is unlikely. At 27, Kyle Abbott might have a chance while the door is open for Wayne Parnell if he manages to find a fix for his inconsistency. The batsmen are more likely to extend their careers, but South Africa will need to focus on the depth of the squad. The domestic structures, the Under-19 tours and the A-team tours serve as a fine breeding ground for unearthing talent. Blooding talent over the course of the next 12 months will become a critical part of building towards the next World Cup. Trusting that talent, like they have trusted Quinton de Kock and Rilee Rossouw, is even more important than discovering it.

South Africa’s check list also features the prickly issue of transformation. There was just one black player in the squad that travelled to the World Cup. Aaron Phangiso went to the tournament as the back-up spinner and did not feature in a single match. While Phangiso has proven his worth, Imran Tahir is streets ahead of him. Whether Phangiso should have been in the squad as a back-up spinner in conditions not really conducive to spin bowling remains debatable, but one cannot ignore the glaring deficiency in producing black players. Cricket South Africa have responded by implementing aggressive quotas at franchise and semi-pro level. While quotas do have some merit when it comes to combating institutional racism, simply implementing them ignores a far bigger societal issue – but that’s a discussion for another day.

For South African cricket, 2015 is one of the most important years in quite some time. Having failed at the World Cup yet again, it’s now all about rebuilding and fine-tuning for the future. DM

Photo: South Africa’s bowler Morne Morkel reacts with team mates after bowling out New Zealand’s Kane Williamson during their Cricket World Cup semi-final match in Auckland, March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps


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