CWC 2019: Proteas’ plans falling apart?

2017-08-16 12:50
Hashim Amla (Gallo)

Cape Town – Disturbing instability over a handful of seasoned national players reigns … less than two years before South Africa have another stab at that elusive but so hungrily-desired World Cup.

There is suddenly enough tumult, or at the very least up-in-the-air status, surrounding key Proteas figures to suggest that their eighth attempt to get it right – on English and Welsh soil from late May 2019 – may already be dogged by potential drawbacks that go beyond the well-entrenched major tournament bogey.

Winning the World Cup, in particular, is a near-obsessive goal of several SA stalwarts who have, to varying degrees, only suffered heartbreak previously in the quest for glory in the premier limited-overs event every four years.

The Proteas haven’t even reached a CWC final yet, although they have had some desperately close shaves in several semi-finals, including their last one in 2015 when New Zealand pipped them in an Auckland humdinger and the Proteas’ immediate lead-up to the game was impeded by off-field “political” shenanigans.

South Africa sport several players in their current arsenal who, mostly for age-related reasons, understandably have a healthy eye on one last crack at the World Cup trophy in 2019.

But recent developments, including a speculative report on Tuesday that long-time batting ace Hashim Amla is being sought by several counties on Kolpak terms, ironically introduce the danger that many of those very players – the far from unimportant, experienced core of the team – won’t be available now for the big CWC push.

This state of flux will also provide an immediate challenge, in terms of his medium-term planning in more than just the ODI format, to the new national coach, expected to be unveiled very shortly as former West Indies coach and fast bowler Ottis Gibson.

As it is, the Proteas are under some pressure to bounce back swiftly as a 50-overs force after surrendering their first bilateral series in eight (to England on their more broadly ill-fated recent tour) and also a disappointing Champions Trophy 2017 campaign.

Here is a reminder of the proven, many-capped customers in South Africa’s one-day mix around whose futures doubts can be said to currently swirl, either for common or divergent reasons, and throwing a credible CWC 2019 assault by the Proteas into question:

AB de Villiers (age 33)

The biggest hot potato of them all, perhaps. One of the world’s most marketable cricketers, the dashing stroke-player remains SA’s ODI skipper as things stand. But he has adopted a controversial, selective approach to his participation in series as his twilight phase beckons, and it is strongly rumoured that he is about to pull the plug entirely on his Test career. He has stated firmly that he wants one more CWC go, which is reassuring news, but the fierce debate surrounding his national loyalty – including spirited Twitter tiffs between ex-Proteas players – also makes his general future for the SA cause somehow not seem completely cut and dried.   

ODIs: 222 (9,319 runs at 53.55)

Hashim Amla (age 34)

With no specific counties yet named as supposed hunters of his services, it is premature, perhaps, to suggest that this rock-like batting figure for so many years will soon be lost to the Proteas. It is also possible that counties understandably wish to get their ducks in a row early to sign up the consummate professional, even if it is only for after the next World Cup. But the security of a pounds-based deal must, nevertheless, be tempting to him after 13 years of gruelling globetrotting for the Proteas. Also, if it is to be on Kolpak terms, Amla will be as aware as anybody that opportunities will tighten or end completely on that score with the UK’s Brexit plans from the European Union …

ODIs: 156 (7,186 runs at 50.25)

Morne Morkel (age 32)

The lanky paceman’s stellar few months in England with the Proteas in all formats and competitions was one of few heartening aspects to an otherwise grim visit. Soon after the team returned to our shores, Morkel very publicly pledged his ongoing loyalty to the national cause. Almost as quickly afterwards, however, reports broke suggesting that several counties sought his Kolpak signature. As with Amla, any English deal would give Morkel satisfying late-career security and a significant foreign-cash boost, especially as he has had much-publicised injury issues that threatened to end his career prematurely. He is married to an Australian, which might additionally not comfort those who fear he could yet fall prey to opportunities elsewhere.

ODIs: 112 (186 wickets at 24.48)

Dale Steyn (age 34)

Everything around the popular, iconic fast bowler revolves right now around his rehabilitation – and yes, it has been necessarily slow – from a serious injury to his bowling shoulder. He has been out of action for not much short of a year, considering that he broke down in a Perth Test last November. The Phalaborwa Express is a fighter, and an upbeat soul, but let’s just say the cricket landscape is not short of personalities who believe it will be an uphill battle for him to regain his mojo of old … or even just don the SA colours again.

ODIs: 116 (180 wickets at 26.62)

Vernon Philander (age 32)

There will be those ready to immediately say “hang on, he doesn’t even provide much ODI service anymore”. But shrewd cricket brains will also know that an early-summer World Cup in English conditions would be right up known Test expert Philander’s seam alley, making him an attractive bet for recall to the ODI fold – he last played that format two years ago. But the bustling Philander is increasingly plagued by niggles and other impediments, a factor that badly curtailed his involvement in the recent Test series in England. Fitness is a mounting issue for the canny fast-medium bowler, and former national captain Graeme Smith recently spoke frankly in lamenting the player’s conditioning aspects.

ODIs: 30 (41 wickets at 24.04)

JP Duminy (age 33)

Duminy was recently dropped from the Test team during the English tour, putting him out of pretty enduring misery statistically, and even left the squad early to return home. In fairness, Duminy has been a more resolute and valued part of the furniture in limited-overs terms – especially with the extra, bowling string to his bow -- and he must still be seduced by the idea of a CWC 2019 last hurrah. Yet his form at all levels for South Africa has been iffy, at best, considering his known talent. Will he only dip further, or pick things up again over the next two years? That ball’s in his court.

ODIs: 177 (4,638 runs at 37.70)

Imran Tahir (age 38)

The effervescent, limited-overs match-winning “leggie” seems to be enjoying his cricket (and prospering at it, too) as much as ever, even at his already ripe old age. But for the very, blunt reason that he will have turned 40 by the time CWC 2019 comes along, his own durability to make it that far has to be considered less than wholly assured, wouldn’t you think?

ODIs: 78 (132 wickets at 23.87)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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