Proteas

Career-defining 18 months for Proteas

2018-01-02 11:22
AB de Villiers (Getty Images)

Cape Town - When the Proteas lock horns with India at Newlands on Friday it will be the start of an 18-month period that has the potential to be career-defining for a number of senior players in the current set-up. 

The road to the 2019 World Cup under new coach Ottis Gibson has begun, but before then there is a lot of Test cricket to be played with home series against India and Australia followed by a tour to Sri Lanka over August and September. 

The Proteas then visit Australia towards the end of next year for a limted overs series before welcoming Pakistan for a full series over the festive season. 

Another home and away series against Sri Lanka follows before the World Cup gets underway in England in May. 

The upcoming series against India and the Aussies are the highlight from a Test match perspective, but the World Cup at this stage emerges as a bright star on the horizon that can turn very good Proteas careers into great Proteas careers. 

In both formats, though, there is a lot left to achieve for what is an ageing group.

Will it is impossible to say for sure, the chances are good that the 2019 World Cup will serve as an international swansong for the likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du PlessisMorne Morkel and Imran Tahir

Then there is Dale Steyn, who may or may not make that tournament, and Vernon Philander, who may or may not be selected for that tournament. 

For all of those players, the next 18 months could be career-defining. 

De Villiers (33) has spoken and written about his desperation to win the World Cup and while he will not lift the trophy as captain, he can play a major role in the overall success of the national side in winning their first ever tournament. 

De Villiers must also ensure that he finishes strong in Test cricket now that he is back in that set-up. Currently averaging 50.47 from 107 Tests, De Villiers can solidify his status as one of the greats of the game if he improves or maintains those standards. 

Amla, too, must have a strong finish to his Test career. Despite a solid year in 2017, he has seen his Test average dip below 50 - it is 49.61 - and he will have a chance this summer to set that right. 

Amla also forms one of the world's most feared opening partnerships in ODI cricket with Quinton de Kock, and at 34 this will almost certainly be his last chance to win the trophy that has always escaped South Africa. 

Morkel and Tahir, meanwhile, will certainly be done beyond 2019.

For Du Plessis, the next year and a half is massive. 

Given the Test captaincy relatively late in his career, he has been impressive in the role so far, winning 10 of his 16 matches in charge. 

If those numbers can improve with series wins over the valued scalps of India and Australia in the coming months, his reputation as one of South Africa's finest leaders will soar. 

Then, next year, Du Plessis will have the opportunity to do what none of Kepler Wessels, Hansie Cronje, Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith or De Villiers managed to do by leading the Proteas to World Cup glory. 

He will be 35 by the time that tournament ends, and it is hard to see him playing any more international cricket beyond that. 

Steyn, meanwhile, needs five more wickets to become the all-time leading wicket-taker for South Africa in Test cricket. 

Despite his presence in the squad for the India series, there are still doubts over his overall fitness and how big a role he will play in the weeks to come. 

At 34 and with the Proteas seam department well stocked at present, this latest effort at a comeback will surely be Steyn's last.

Regardless of what happens, the 'Phalaborwa Express' will leave the game as a legend, but if he can push it a little further in the weeks and months ahead he will move ahead of Shaun Pollock as South Africa's undisputed best. 

2019 is still a long way away for Steyn, but it is not out of the question if he finds some match fitness in the first half of this year. 

Then there is 'Big Vern', who has been so consistent for South Africa on the Test stage. He has only played 30 ODIs and is certainly more at home in the longer format, and he will be key to the South African cause against India and Australia this year. 

He thrives in home conditions and with his current bowling average at a seriously impressive 22.37, Philander will be backing himself to add significantly to his 173 Test wickets. 

JP Duminy, done with Test cricket, will also be backing himself to get to 2019.

For a number of players in the Proteas set-up, there are many years ahead and more than one chance at World Cup glory. 

But, for others, this is the beginning of the end and their final shot at doing something special for their country.

Here's hoping that this generation is the one to finally get us over the line. 

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