Proteas’ summer under new management – things are looking up
South Africa have had two different red-ball and two different white-ball coaches in the past three months. But despite the seeming disorder of management, both teams are on an upward trajectory after a roller-coaster summer of results.
The Proteas’ summer of cricket draws to a close with a vital two-match One Day International (ODI) series against the Netherlands on Friday and Sunday. South Africa need to win both matches to qualify automatically for the 50-over World Cup in India later this year.
The Proteas opted out of playing an ODI series against Australia preceding the three-match Test series earlier this year to have the core national white-ball players available for the inaugural season of the SA20.
The consequence of not playing that ODI series meant South Africa relinquished the opportunity to gain World Cup Super League points — a big reason the series against the Dutch has become so important.
South Africa were led by interim coach Malibongwe Maketa for their three-match Test series against Australia in December and January — which they lost 2-0 (the third match was drawn after excessive rain in Sydney).
Smack in the middle of the inaugural SA20 tournament, the Proteas played a three-match ODI series against reigning world champions England with Super League points up for grabs.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) subsequently announced a new leadership group — following Mark Boucher’s departure after South Africa’s disappointing T20 World Cup exit last year and Maketa’s interim role in Australia.
Domestic cricket stalwart Shukri Conrad was appointed as Test coach while journeyman coach Rob Walter took over the white-ball squads.
Despite the clear outlines, Conrad took the reins as coach for the series against the English while Walter finished his contract obligations in New Zealand.
A new, attacking version of the Proteas emerged as they defeated the leading white-ball team in the world 2-1 in the series — led by Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma centuries.
South Africa’s recently concluded series against the West Indies at home was tightly contested, with each team winning three matches — across formats — with one rained-out fixture in the ODIs.
The home team won the Test series 2-0 relatively comfortably — under the tutelage of Conrad for the first time in the format.
Conrad made several surprising inclusions and omissions in the victorious Test squad. Sarel Erwee and Kyle Verreynne — South Africa’s only Test centurions of the previous year — were both dropped.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Records tumble as Proteas chase down 258 in T20 International against West Indies
Aiden Markram was recalled and opened the batting. The latter decision turned out to be a masterstroke by Conrad as Markram ended the series as the player of the series with 276 runs at an average of 69.
Conrad also opted to rescind Dean Elgar as captain and make Bavuma the leader of the red-ball side.
Bavuma — after scoring consecutive ducks in the first Test — justified the decision with a career-best 172 in the second Test to secure a first series win as leaders of the side for himself and Conrad.
The Proteas played 11 Test matches in 2022 and only scored two centuries. They’ve already matched that amount in the two matches they’ve played this year.
There were also introductions to international cricket for youngsters Tony de Zorzi and Gerald Coetzee as well as a reintroduction for Ryan Rickelton.
The potential of South Africa’s menacing batting unit was on show in the white-ball series against West Indies. They scored at more than 10 runs an over in all three T20Is while successfully chasing a world record score of 258 in the second match.
In the ODIs, South Africa continued their new attacking batting game plan from the England series which filtered into the three T20Is against the Windies.
“With bat in hand, the guys have tried their best and have put up a bit of a fight, which is good. Most of the guys in the top six are pretty much in form, which is a great thing to take forward,” said new T20 captain Aiden Markram.
But despite the positive batting, South Africa drew the ODI series 1-1 and lost the T20I series 2-1. It was due mainly to the bowling department being uncharacteristically wayward.
“From a bowling point of view, [the series against the Netherlands] is another opportunity for the bowlers to remind everyone that they have been one of the best bowling units in the world in the past 18-24 months,” Markram added.
South Africa may have had a world record chase with the bat in the second T20I but the fact that the batters had to achieve that to secure the victory is concerning enough for the bowling department.
“It’s very cliched to say, but it just comes down to skill execution. As well as execution of skills in relation to the plans that we discussed,” said new white-ball coach Walter.
“When you lose a game, it inevitably comes down to skill execution or your plans on the day.”
However, Walter maintains that he is thrilled about the potential of the squad in his short stint with the team thus far.
“It would be very difficult not to be excited by what we’ve seen in the [T20Is] in this series and prior to that in the 50-over stuff.”
“I think we’re getting there. We’re certainly making progress in terms of how we want to play the game.
“There’s exciting things happening. It’s really nice to see the guys playing with freedom and just expressing their skills. There’s more in the tank, I believe.”
Walter and Conrad have both settled into their roles and while Conrad is the only one who has had immediate success, South Africa are building a threatening white-ball side heading into an important 50-over World Cup year.
“I’m really positive around the cricket that we’re playing. From where we are now to where we want to get to is not a hell of a long way away,” said Walter.
“I would be very, very arrogant to say that I had a significant impact in this short space of time. I don’t think it’s that at all.
“For me, it’s about being consistent with the language I use with the team and the players and that is constantly telling them to find ways to express themselves, to take aggressive options in the game.” DM