Cape Town - The Proteas must avoid falling into the trap of understandable, greater urgency in stiffening the calibre of their Twenty20 game over the next few months becoming too obsessive.
Immense challenges lie in wait for them at five-day level for instance, in the shape of the newly-constructed World Test Championship - featuring formidable initial series for them in India (October) followed by global team-of-the-moment England’s lengthy visit in the South African summer.
But at least as far as white-ball activity is concerned for the national side, who returned with tails largely between their legs from an unmemorable CWC 2019, a stronger emphasis will turn in the coming months to gradually, more devotedly fine-tuning their T20 side of things - perhaps slightly at the expense of the longer limited-overs format.
The next ICC T20 World Cup is scheduled for Australia in the early part of the 2020/21 season in the southern hemisphere, leaving them not much more than a year to have their ducks in a smart row.
While bilateral series in the format generally have limited gravitas, they become increasingly important whenever the global jamboree is looming on the horizon, so the approaching period will be little different.
Given South Africa’s miserable modern record across 50-overs World Cups, Champions Trophies (one triumph, back in the 1998 inaugural one in Bangladesh) and the T20 version, any opportunity to try to correct the trend has to be grabbed with both hands – under-the-cosh Cricket South Africa will know that.
The Proteas, for the relatively low value it has, currently lie a promising enough third on the T20 rankings.
After a spell in which they lost five of seven bilateral series in the landscape, they have bounced back quite strongly to win all of the last four: against Zimbabwe, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (a 3-0 sweep of them on our soil last time out).
Planning for the big get-together Down Under won’t be the easiest business, though, as the Proteas’ brains trust - its own composition looking fluid at the time of writing - must balance those needs with the no less vital one of ensuring that some of their (worryingly dwindling?) stock of genuinely top-tier superstars don’t get overplayed and lose some of their effectiveness across the three formats … which really does you a fat lot of good.
The name of Kagiso Rabada jumps rapidly to mind: statistics recently confirmed, in quite dazzling ink, that the gifted paceman has been asked to bowl far more international overs in recent times than most frontline rivals for other nations and it probably went a long way to explaining his generally below-standard, personal World Cup.
Here’s a thought: how about the Proteas commit in the coming season to resting him from all, or virtually all, ODI activity? (Series are scheduled against England and Australia at home, and a later return to Indian pitches for another trio of 50-overs tussles in March.)
That should go at least some way to ensuring the 24-year-old spearhead is suitably sharp and, hopefully, injury-free for both Test and T20 commitments during the summer, when he will also be expected to be a key figure in the second year of the Mzansi Super League.
Indeed, his comfort in the game’s shortest format is so well known already that he should not be crudely thrust into every T20 international along the way, either: he WILL be on the plane to Australia, regardless of his levels of prior exposure to the environment in the lead-up.
The Proteas, as with many other countries, have been using earlier T20 internationals quite noticeably as a forum for blooding raw cricketers to international exposure; that is likely to continue to a good degree, although by the time the T20 World Cup comes along, several of their more staple 50-overs personnel should also find themselves filtered with greater earnest into T20 plans.
At the same time, South Africa need to seriously take on board some of the sobering lessons for them of CWC 2019: you increasingly require legs that are as nippy and spring-heeled as possible to power your general limited-overs play at the loftiest levels, and cannot afford too many “passengers” in the XI who are notably slower or prone to niggles/injuries.
As it is, they may well be making a prominent exception in the shape of ace, evergreen leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who will continue to be available in T20 cricket but no longer ODIs - he will be 41 by the time the T20 World Cup starts but, with apologies to a certain advertising catch-phrase, he’s worth it.
There will have to be plenty of significantly more youthful presences in the SA side to serve as balancers, if you like, especially if someone like Faf du Plessis (just turned 35) also sticks around to be both a bastion of batting experience - at a time when the developing resources seem pretty lean - and leadership wisdom.
A player from the recent CWC squad who definitely won’t see service at the T20 World Cup is JP Duminy (retired now from all international formats), while Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla seem massively unlikely to be considered for that format into next year - both are highly pedigreed Test operators who deserve to wind down for South Africa, if they even get to do that now, in the five-day arena.
Someone like Chris Morris probably did enough at the World Cup to earn resurgent respect from the wise men as a broad white-ball factor for South Africa, while keep in mind that Rassie van der Dussen’s continuing growth as a consistent provider of 50-overs runs is accompanied by pleasing stats, too, in his earliest T20 internationals - he is averaging a promising 36 after seven such opportunities.
Rookie figures who should benefit further (several have already had a smattering of Proteas T20 exposure) from a renewed quest for freshness in the ranks over the next year will include Lutho Sipamla, Janneman Malan, Sinethemba Qeshile, Bjorn Fortuin and Wiaan Mulder, perhaps among others.
South Africa effectively begin their bid to get ship-shape for the Aussie-staged jamboree with three T20 internationals in India during September, a precursor to the three-Test series.
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