Cape Town – The Proteas, in the middle of what has been called a “period of experimentation”, have been abysmal in the limited overs leg of their battle against India.
There is no getting away from that.
Ever since the third Test at the Wanderers, India and their animated skipper Virat Kohli have outshone South Africa in all aspects of the game.
It has, at many times, bordered on the embarrassing.
Before the six-match ODI series started, convenor of selectors Linda Zondi addressed media in Johannesburg. Full of smiles, as he always is, Zondi explained that the limited overs series against India would be used as an opportunity to give players on the fringes of the Proteas set-up a fair crack.
The priority, Zondi confirmed, was the 2019 World Cup and the bulk of this year would be spent fielding different combinations in an attempt to identify South Africa’s best XI for the tournament.
I remember asking Zondi at that press briefing if he was prepared for the possibility of results suffering as a result.
He had no such concerns, and argued that whenever a South African side was picked it would be made up of players capable of winning international cricket matches.
Six ODIs and T20I later, Zondi could not have predicted how bad things would be.
It would be easy to blame these results on the fact that the Proteas are blooding youngsters, but the truth of the matter is that it is the experienced players who have let their side down most.
Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and David Miller were all disappointing in the ODI series, with Amla’s average of 25.66 the best of that quartet.
Faf du Plessis’s injury after the first ODI was obviously damaging to South Africa’s cause, and it threw Aiden Markram into the deep end as skipper in a decision that was made in the spirit of looking to the future but ultimately proved to be the wrong one.
Markram may be the national captain once Du Plessis has left the game, but right now it is important for him to focus on making plenty of runs for his country.
We, unlike the Proteas brains trust, do have the benefit of hindsight in that regard.
The point, though, is that it can never be acceptable, regardless of the format, for a Proteas side to be dominated on home soil the way they have been over the last month.
Whether trying new things or not, certain standards have to be met and maintained when a South African national side takes to the field.
Sunil Gavaskar, in the commentary box during the first T20I on Sunday, raised the question of what had happened to South Africa’s fielding.
That has been a department, Gavaskar said, where the Proteas had been historically one of the best in the world. Yet, over the limited overs series against India, they have moved backwards.
It is a telling symptom of how unrecognisable this Proteas side currently is.
As the first T20I was nearing its end, the cameras panned to Proteas coach Ottis Gibson. Sat alone on the Wanderers player balcony, Gibson looked like he was about to explode, and understandably so.
He had been let down by another woeful South African performance with bat, ball and in the field.
We don’t know what the talk before the match was, and Gibson must be held accountable here too, but South Africa’s seam bowling was devoid of any variation or skill. On a flat Wanderers wicket, you cannot simply run in and hit your lengths and expect not to travel against a side as accomplished as India.
After the opening powerplay, India had bowled 12 slower balls to South Africa’s 0.
When the likes of De Villiers, Du Plessis, Amla and an in-form De Kock return to the side, there is no doubt that South Africa will be significantly stronger. But that should not serve as an excuse for what has been an abysmal display over the past few weeks.
Hopefully, Gibson transfers the anger he showed yesterday into the Proteas dressing room.
We can’t sugar-coat such performances. If you are picked to play for your national team, regardless of your level of experience, we expect more from you. Players must be held accountable and that message must be made abundantly clear.
There are two T20Is left and, for a number of players who can consider themselves lucky to still be wearing national colours this year, time is running out.
Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...
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