Proteas’ World Cup build-up has been a rocky journey so far
South Africa’s preparation for the World Cup in India next month has hit several bumps in the road including injuries and waning form.
South Africa have been firmly outplayed by Australia in the ongoing white-ball series at home. They have been hammered in five consecutive matches before finally pulling a result back on Tuesday.
Coupled with the fact that South Africa have a few injury concerns, preparation for the upcoming 50-over World Cup in India has been anything but smooth sailing.
The Cricket World Cup squad announcement was made on 5 September, while the Proteas’ last ODI, before the announcement, was on 2 April, against Netherlands.
Nearly five months had passed between the two events while form and fitness had waned in the interim – the Proteas’ ODI series against Australia started on 7 September.
South Africa are currently 2-1 down, having lost the opening two matches (both played at the Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein) by three wickets and 123 runs, respectively – this after losing the T20I series 3-0 in Durban.
They fought back to claim their first win of the season by 111-runs at JB Marks Oval in Potchefstroom, on Tuesday.
“We pride ourselves to be a really competitive cricketing nation and when you don’t play up to those standards, it affects the human as well as the cricketer,” said Aiden Markram, who struck an unbeaten 102 on Tuesday.
“It’s not nice to let the people of the country down. When you get a good result, it means a lot to us and it’s nice to know that even though what’s happened in the past on this tour, we have the character to turn it around in a must-win game.”
The national side have four matches left before they begin their Cricket World Cup journey against Sri Lanka at the Arun Jaitley Stadium on 7 October.
The remaining matches include the final two ODIs against Australia in the ongoing five-match series as well as two warm-up matches, against Afghanistan and New Zealand, in India.
In the recent past when the Proteas have struggled, the batting has usually been the main cause of concern. But throughout the ongoing white-ball tour, it’s South Africa’s pace bowling that has suffered the most at the bats of the Aussies.
Head coach Rob Walter has selected six bowling options in his 15-man squad for India.
The T20I series largely contained an experimental side, with several stars such as Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje rested. While Rabada looks to be performing close to his best, Nortje has stuttered in his short stint back in green and gold.
The fiery pacer has only played one match and suffered back spasms in the second ODI after bowling only five overs, which cost a quick 58 runs at an economy rate of 11.6. He has since missed the third ODI — the extent of the injury has not been disclosed yet.
Sisanda Magala, meanwhile, has only played one match on the tour so far, the third ODI, despite being initially selected in both white-ball squads. The big quick suffered a knee injury prior to the Aussies touching down in South Africa.
Magala bowled four overs in the third ODI, conceding 46 runs at an economy rate of 11.5.
After Magala’s sustained injury, the Proteas elected to draft Andile Phehlukwayo into the ODI set-up for the series against Australia although the all-rounder is not part of the World Cup squad.
He was shifted straight into the playing XI for the second ODI at the Mangaung Oval and although Phehlukwayo performed admirably with the ball, his participation serves no purpose to the preparation for the fast-approaching World Cup.
Rassie van der Dussen is the highest-ranked ODI batter in the South African squad, at No 3 in the world, according to the International Cricket Council rankings.
But scores of eight and 17 in the opening two ODIs saw the usually reliable strokemaker dropped (rotated?) out of the playing XI for an in-form Reeza Hendricks who looked excellent for his 39, in the third ODI — before he was run-out.
Van Der Dussen’s overall record, with an average of 57.5, is far superior to Hendricks’ who averages 28.2 in the 50-over format.
At this stage of preparation before the quadrennial tournament, the best players, particularly batters, need as much time in the middle as possible, but right now questions remain about who the better option is for Walter.
Heinrich Klaasen, who was also rested for the T20I series, said that despite the five-month layoff from international cricket, there is no excuse for the side’s early showings against the Aussies.
“We’d rather take it now, but it’s still not an excuse,” said Klaasen, who scored 49 off 36 balls in the second ODI.
“We still love playing for the badge and for the country and our performances are important to us.
“It’s difficult to say why we’re not hitting our basics because, like I said, the guys have been playing around the world and we’re still proud to play for our country.
“We want to put in the performances and take some momentum to the World Cup. But we’d rather take a few bad games now rather than at the World Cup.” DM