Cape Town – Perhaps it was because the veteran fast bowling
legend discovered winter rainwater in his kitchen or something.
More likely, though, it was Dale Steyn’s sharp, utterly
candid response -- coming just as the last rites were read on them at Southampton
- to the Proteas’ nine-wicket Twenty 20 international pulverising at the hands
of England on Wednesday.
By means of his Twitter account (@DaleSteyn62), the
slowly-rehabilitating competitor, in lingo possibly not suited to the
proverbial family environment, used one word to apparently sum up things at the
Rose Bowl: it began with ‘f’, ended in ‘k’ and had liberal use of the letter
‘a’ in the middle.
It may also have been the most apt way of assessing South
Africa’s performance, which set new standards of late in meekness and
bankruptcy on their England tour.
The brutal truth is that both the senior national side and
the parallel-travelling SA ‘A’ crew are looking much more vulnerable this UK
summer than we might have expected them to, following the prolonged glories of
the last southern hemisphere season.
What a difference only some three months (since they won the
Test series to close off their praiseworthy all-format New Zealand mission) can
make … and in the nastiest of ways.
Cold fact: the Proteas have won just two of their last seven
white-ball internationals subsequently, and suddenly look glaringly bereft of appetite,
initiative and any cutting edge.
It is a badly-timed trough - even if it can be foolhardy to
link the various formats too liberally - as the prestigious four-Test battle
for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy lies only a fortnight away with game one at
The lean trot began with the 2-1 one-day international series
reverse to the English, then the (depressingly familiar) one-from-three record
at the multinational ICC Champions Trophy, ensuring an early exit after a
promising enough start, and now the especially galling outcome in the first of
three T20 clashes with England.
Things are also well less than hunky-dory for the SA ‘A’
team, who were well beaten (2-0) in the scheduled three-game unofficial ODI
series by England Lions – one abandonment – and a few days ago were humbled by
an innings by a Sussex combination closer to a second than regular first XI.
Concerned? Well, we’re all allowed to be.
The amalgam of results in recent weeks just begins to
suggest that depth and genuine quality is becoming a problem in domestic
cricket; that chickens are perhaps coming home to roost in a franchise landscape
still more greatly shaped by the politburo, rightly or wrongly, than is the
case in other countries.
More and more steely first-class (and in some cases
considerably proven international, too) players from our shores have switched
their main bread-and-butter loyalties to English counties, with Kolpak
contracts in many instances rendering them ineligible henceforth for the
Into that category fall such names as Kyle Abbott and Rilee
Rossouw (those two particularly sorely missed right now, I’d submit), but also
Colin Ingram, Stiaan van Zyl and Simon Harmer.
Meanwhile the sort of raw tearaway the current Proteas look
as though they could do with, Marchant de Lange, is playing for Glamorgan on
non-Kolpak terms as his wife has a British passport.
As if to remind of his qualities, the still only 26-year-old
bagged 5/95 on Wednesday, during the county’s ongoing Championship match
against Durham at Chester-le-Street; he has played only two Test matches yet
sports nine wickets and is entitled, looking at what’s left right now, to feel
just a little miffed about his relative cold-shouldering from Proteas activity.
Recriminations certainly flew thick and fast from Wednesday’s
bilious events (at least if you were South African) at the Rose Bowl.
Forthright former national captain Kepler Wessels, from the
SuperSport studio, branded the game “embarrassing” and suggested the Proteas
needed to “get some happiness back in the group” in a hurry, considering the
lengthy nature of the visit with the main portion still to be negotiated.
The crux of the present problem, he felt, was that too many
callow figures were being deployed by the Proteas brains trust at once, with
dangerous limits on the level of steely experience around them.
In England itself, one of their own ex-captains, Nasser
Hussain, proclaimed with just a hint of parochial glee: “Shambles from South
Africa … this could go pear-shaped, this tour. England bowled better, fielded
better, batted better.”
The situation is hardly aiding embattled ODI and acting T20
captain AB de Villiers, under increasing scrutiny over his leadership, an issue
not unrelated to his late-career policy of curtailing his presence to certain
At least on social media, there is a growing sentiment among
supporters that his “pick and choose” habit rubs off badly on those in the SA
ranks committed to all challenges.
Considering what he has given to the cause over more than a
dozen years, De Villiers may be copping a slightly tougher dose of press and
public hostility than he deserves, but he has undoubtedly become a hot potato
of sorts in the national picture -- and recent results inevitably only
aggravate judgements of him.
Nothing has happened more recently, either, to change my own
suspicion that a little bit somehow died in the thrilling, multi-talented
player with the selection shenanigans that immediately preceded the World Cup
semi-final heartbreak of early 2015.
Then there is the coaching quandary.
Despite his unquestionably rousing 2016/17 campaign,
incumbent Russell Domingo was advised he would have to join the queue
procedurally for rights to the job after the England tour, and mystery
surrounds whether he has actually applied to stay on or not.
Cricket South Africa were stubbornly in “state secret” mode earlier
this week when contacted by Sport24 for information on whether Domingo was,
indeed, in the pot and how many other applicants there might be.
“Closing date was last Friday and names will be submitted to
the (appointment recommendation) panel … we will not be issuing details around
number of applications or who has applied,” was all communications and public
relations manager Altaaf Kazi would venture.
The sense of intrigue may not be doing either the Proteas’
camp harmony or the satisfaction levels of the team’s supporters too much good
as things stand, and people are quite entitled – aren’t they? -- to wonder
whether Domingo even has the total enthusiasm for what is left of his
established tenure in the berth.
You also have to hope CSA aren’t too preoccupied right now
with plans for their big T20 biff-baff next season.
Who knows, there may be certain puffs of smoke to judiciously
subdue in the interim.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing