Cricket World Cup 2015

Still Cup hope for older Proteas

2015-03-27 12:46
Dale Steyn (AFP)

Cape Town – The more they keep failing at it, the more attempting to finally win a World Cup will become a burning, perhaps increasingly damaging obsession for both South Africa’s players and supporters.

Maybe, then, it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all for the Proteas, losing semi-finalists of 2015, to deliberately banish for the time being any thoughts of England 2019 and reset their sights a bit more short-term.

In the immediate aftermath, much has been made of the fact that the group which came up bravely short in Australasia contains many early thirty-somethings, a handful of whom are thus in some danger of finding four further years for another crack a bridge too far.

The disappointment at present must be especially acute, then, for men in that category like Hashim Amla (he will be 32 on Tuesday), 31-year-olds AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, plus Morne Morkel, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy, all of whom are 30.

That said, there are no guarantees that any of these proven individuals would not be capable of serving the cause in 2019 -- particularly in the case of the batsmen, who are generally less at risk of career-curbing wear and tear or repetitive injuries.

Bear in mind that when Sri Lanka bade reluctant farewell to heavyweight stroke-players Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene at the latest World Cup, both were taking their leave aged 37 and the former, in particular, was still making runs as if for fun.

Steyn and Morkel admittedly are longer shots at stretching their one-day international careers until 2019, especially as they must feel they have unfinished business at Test level and ought to try to conserve as much appetite and fitness as they can for the five-day format where the top-ranked Proteas happily face some important, attractive series in the next year.

In limited-overs terms, getting too wrapped up in World Cup preoccupation isn’t advisable or even necessary ... and here’s my argument why, partly inspired by the words in TV commentary recently of Australian legend Shane Warne.

So often their on-field tormentor in the past but increasingly sympathetic to their CWC hoodoo, the charismatic leg-spinner said during the nerve-jangling semi-final loss to New Zealand that he felt once the Proteas finally won the cup, they would probably be capable of doing so again reasonably quickly.

An only slightly alternative personal view, while not disagreeing at all with the leg-spin maestro, is that South Africa may find drought becomes flood if they set their sights just a little less ambitiously for the moment.

In other words, while the 50-overs World Cup undoubtedly remains the most hallowed limited-overs global tournament, coming out tops in one of the slightly more middleweight ICC ones – either the World Twenty20 or Champions Trophy – could be just the passport they need to really believing the big one can also be snared.

Let’s not forget that both of these tournaments have been no less elusive to the Proteas in recent years, and just banking one would be a major step in the right direction psychologically.

Teams winning the Twenty20 event, for instance, are not averse to being treated to the tickertape welcome home and open-top bus parade around a major city or two: it is still a feel-good occasion and that would be particularly so on our shores, given so much barrenness and despair down the years.

Although bilateral T20 series carry relatively little weight and are often used to trial new players while bigger names take a break to lessen their broad cricketing workload, come World T20 time the major nations understandably start to reassemble their premier, often most experienced limited-overs personnel with interest.

The lion’s share of the seasoned SA players mentioned above certainly look ripe for another stab at that particular trophy – add to the mix more youthful, fast-maturing factors like Messrs Miller and Rossouw -- with the sixth event taking place in India only a year up the road in March 2016.

While someone like Morkel, who looked especially gutted after the Auckland heartbreaker, may harbour doubts that he will be around for the next “main” World Cup, he should console himself that one-day silverware is still within his reach well before that.

In fact, such was his consistent excellence over the last few weeks in Australasia that he may even be deemed suitable material now to actually lead his country’s attack at that World T20, possibly as its most senior pace-bowling figure by then.

The Proteas are yet to even make the final of that tournament, but as always they ought to have the depth of strong individual names to be among the front-runners on paper nevertheless.

As for the Champions Trophy, it has been granted something of a new lease of life after rumours two or three ago that it would be canned: instead an eighth has been scheduled for English soil in June 2017.

Some critics believe it is a better, more absorbing tournament than the World Cup as it is shorter, featuring only the top eight sides on the ODI rankings, and therefore offers greater strength-versus-strength appeal and intensity.

Again, the modern Proteas have all too often come up short in it, not having lifted the cup since they did so at the inaugural event in Bangladesh in 1998.

Don’t be too quick to diss the Champions Trophy or World T20: they could yet be used as springboards to snap South Africa’s World Cup jinx.

Let’s regard them as baby steps to potential bigger glory, and do everything possible to maximise the chance of bagging either.

It was reassuring to hear former Proteas coach Eric Simons, who savoured World Cup 2011 success on the Indian coaching panel, saying in the SuperSport studio earlier this week that he did not believe the Proteas would be “scarred” by their latest CWC semis stumble: “They’ll be stronger for the experience.”

As one SK Warne has reminded, a taste of glory, however long it may take, can have the spin-off of only increasing the appetite and familiarity for more.

He’s Australian. He should know ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cwc 2015  |  dale steyn  |  cricket

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