ICC World Twenty20
Time to shake Proteas bag
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Proteas coach Corrie van Zyl (File)
Cape Town – As important as comprehensive analysis of failure is, resisting hysteria is just as vital a consideration.
There is a peculiar tally of unforgiving and terminally spiteful South Africans, after all, who appear to believe that the only place for the Proteas is atop the world, for ever more, in Test, one-day international and Twenty20 cricket.
Failure to achieve this? Well, it must mean that universally revered cricketers – yes, great South African players – like Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and others are simply, all-embracingly useless, eh?
Another thing to consider, and there are plenty of unsophisticated cricket followers in this country who will not and do not appreciate it, is that failure to win the latest brand of global get-together, the ICC World Twenty20, hardly represents the arrival of the apocalypse.
This event (oddly but not altogether unsurprisingly the second cash-cow of its kind within less than a year) is a relative lightweight; a nice-to-have-if-you-can-get-it sort of laurel in a bubble-gummy, brash environment where big slices of luck are not without say.
But I am prepared to more or less suspend tempering sentiment there.
It is a fact that the Proteas looked largely muted, lethargic and ineffectual in the Caribbean. In a nutshell, not among the contenders at all … and that is particularly disappointing and eye-opening.
It is a fact, too, that South Africa continue to be a laughing stock – sorry, the laughing stock! -- of world tournaments, a situation only aggravated by the fairly recent addition of the T20 format to the roster.
I remain a reasonably staunch cricketing traditionalist, much likelier to mull over epic Test matches or series in idle, reflective moments than yet another in the crassly manufactured line of “T20 thrillers”.
But I accept that in a fast-changing world not everyone is or has to be like me, and I appreciate the impatience of those who want to see the Proteas finally show some mettle at a gathering of the ICC clan.
And this was one of their worst no-shows, where they so rarely muscled themselves into positions of strength and swagger.
One or two mitigating factors must be considered.
First up, I feel genuinely sorry for Smith the batsman: he entered this tournament stale and still feeling his way back from a catalogue of humour-testing injuries, and a T20 event is the very worst arena in which to have to fumble afresh for your mojo.
So little time; so many shots required. We know the big left-hander can play this format; proof is not required. He was just never able to get back in the groove here.
Then there was an absent - and increasingly important - “friend”: Wayne Parnell. One of the stars of the altogether more vibrant Proteas showing at last year’s World T20 in England, the 20-year-old left-arm seamer would have provided great bowling variety and perhaps potency, but he stayed at home nursing a groin injury.
Yet speaking of youth, I believe the time may have come for this to become the absolutely paramount, inspired focus for South Africa in T20 international selection ahead.
Why not use this format more strongly as the feeder environment for keen, hungry and dynamic young cricketers to stake their claims, and then for the better ones to move onto the ODI squad and perhaps even the Test arena as well?
South Africa have tended to be fairly rigid in their selections across the three major codes, by and large sticking to a set core of tried-and-trusted individuals -- some of whom, let’s not forget, have stood accused at several junctures of forging an unhealthy “senior clique” in the squad.
I feel a very significant Proteas freshening is advisable at T20 level, something that could pay dividends for the other two formats at the same time in the way it would curb the threat of some of South Africa’s more seasoned “treadmillers” from becoming blasé about donning a national shirt.
Just how genuinely motivated can someone like Kallis get, for instance, for another low-gravitas T20 international when he has represented his country on no fewer than 450 occasions? (For the record, 137 Tests, 298 ODIs and 15 T20Is.)
There would, I think, be no shame, no dishonour, in opting henceforth to withdraw veterans like Kallis and Boucher from T20 internationals: let’s not forget that many credible cricket commentators feel T20 should not be played between countries anyway, and only be a “franchise” thing.
I’ve often suspected players like these must have reached a point where they could do with more pronounced stints of “life” outside of hotels and aircraft, providing them with essential balance and probably an even sharper desire when they pull on a white or green shirt for more profound occasions – we know there is life left in these standout old dogs of cricketing war.
There is Smith’s captaincy to mull over, as well: he has had the SA job for a long stint and, despite a significant lobby of detractors, brought great glory at times to the national cause – he is one of those people born to lead, of that I have little doubt. Ask someone like Gary Kirsten if you don’t believe me.
But would it really be so heinous to suggest that he sacrifice the reins at T20 level, perhaps opening up the gap – an overdue one, frankly -- for someone to work towards becoming the natural heir apparent to him at broader levels?
“Maybe (the Proteas need) some fresh faces, some new energy.” Whose words were those? Smith himself, revealingly, speaking soon after the Pakistan near-fiasco in St Lucia.
And they are highly likely to have perked up the ears hopefully of the likes of David Miller, Daryn Smit, Alviro Petersen, Rusty Theron, Rilee Rossouw, Thandi Tshabalala, Stiaan van Zyl, Colin Ingram, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and many others …