Cape Town - Ten games ... that’s what the Proteas
have now in the drive to get their ducks in a row for the ICC World Twenty20
event in India from March 11.
The countdown starts with the first of two
T20 clashes with visiting New Zealand at Kingsmead on Friday (18:00); the quick
follow-up is at Centurion on Sunday afternoon.
Although the countries then lock horns in
three one-day internationals as well, it is the first portion of the short
Black Caps tour that is arguably more important in this instance.
There will be many purists harrumphing at
the very thought of a fairly unseasonal, bilateral T20 mini-series being
considered “important” – a school of thought still insists the format should be
restricted to a franchise landscape worldwide – but that would be failing to
understand South Africa’s absolute desperation to land a first ICC
major-tournament trophy of some kind since 1998.
That was when, under the late Hansie
Cronje, the country clinched in Dhaka the inaugural Champions Trophy event,
then still branded the ICC Knockout Tournament.
There have been six of those since, as well
as five World Cups and five World T20s – so simple maths tells you that the
Proteas have come up short in 16 ICC jamborees since that Bangladesh-based achievement
all those years back.
No wonder, then, that they will have another
serious go at arresting the deeply-entrenched habit of failure, come the Indian
showpiece towards the end of the 2015/16 summer.
Of course in between, to please cricket’s
more traditionally-minded, there are heavyweight four-Test series away to India
and at home to England, which will serve to take the emphasis firmly – and
quite rightly – away from any T20 thoughts.
Yet the fact remains that coach Russell Domingo
will want, if he hasn’t begun already, to start drawing up a template for best
possible chance of succeeding where so many previous SA teams have failed at
ICC tournament level.
The 10 T20 internationals that ought to
greatly aid that goal are this pair against New Zealand, then three in India
(October), two at home to England and a further trio against Australia when
they visit our shores – shortest format only -- toward the end of the season.
For the relatively little it matters, Faf
du Plessis’s men are ranked a lowly sixth on the ICC T20 ladder, even behind
West Indies, so will wish to claw their way a bit higher in the “respect”
stakes over the next few months to feel they have a more realistic chance of
lifting the trophy on the Subcontinent.
They will enter the NZ contests (the Black
Caps bring an experimental-flavoured side) at least heartened by the fact that
the T20 portion of the recent, rain-marred Bangladesh tour was their most
productive – they earned a 2-0 mini-sweep of it before botching the ODIs.
Some of the inexperienced bowlers who came
encouragingly to the fore then, like Kagiso Rabada and Eddie Leie, get a
further opportunity on home soil to advance their credentials.
There are fewer rookie faces in the batting
department, which is marked by the return after a 16-month absence from T20
combat of senior statesman from the other codes Hashim Amla – certainly a
signal that the Proteas don’t plan to mess around at T20 level in the period up
to the world event.
Amla is short of recent runs and has never
really taken too hungrily to T20 at international level, but his class is
beyond doubt and he seems the right man at the front of the order in Indian
conditions next March.
The presence of the bearded compiler is
negatively offset by the late withdrawal from the T20 mix of all-rounder JP
Duminy – an extension of his paternity leave -- which leaves the current,
13-man squad a bit short on really proven versatile players.
The Proteas look as though they will put
out a team comprising six batsmen (including ‘keeper) who will be heavily
expected to get the job done, and then a tail made up pretty much of five
bowlers, albeit starting with David Wiese around No 7 – if he gets a chance at
the crease and does well with his spirited striking, he can start to solve a
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