Cape Town - Some 32 one-day internationals ... that’s the
tally new Proteas coach Ottis Gibson has to arrange his ducks for the major
goal of his appointment: to win an elusive World Cup for the country.
South Africa have found the major limited-overs tournament
largely a curse in seven cracks at it since 1992, and the languid West Indian
will automatically find a place in the folklore of his “adopted” nation if he
can help deliver it for them in England in mid-2019.
Counter-balancing the fact that the Proteas are not
scheduled to play any cricket on those reasonably unique shores between now and
then is the reassuring fact that Gibson has intimate knowledge of English
conditions through his generous prior involvement with the hosting country’s
own team cause.
Certainly the start of his ODI voyage with SA could hardly
come in a more differing landscape: the usually dry, sun-baked turf of
Kimberley’s Diamond Oval on Sunday (10:00), and first of three ODIs against
modest Bangladesh, already pulverised in a short Test series.
But you have to get the machine belching into action somehow,
and the Proteas are scheduled - at least as things stand on the future tours
programme - to tackle six different opponents (including one twice) in the
50-overs format before they enter CWC 2019 in the middle of that year.
Things can change, with intended series rosters slightly
tinkered with in length terms or new sides suddenly introduced for a bilateral
challenge, but this is pretty much the ODI-specific brew for Faf du Plessis and
company ahead of the World Cup: Bangladesh (three matches, home), India (six
matches, home), Zimbabwe (three matches, home), Australia (five matches, away),
Pakistan (five matches, home), and then respective five-match home and away
series against Sri Lanka at the tail end of the 2018/19 season.
That amounts to plenty of opportunity for Gibson to assess
exactly who he believes fit the bill for an English-staged major jamboree.
There are some quality opponents in there, even if one or
two series in more notably chilly, seaming climes might have been especially
India, arriving here in the New Year, are the current
top-ranked side in ODIs, the Australians on their own terrain (next summer, a
limited-overs-only series) guarantee a feisty scrap, and when the Proteas
entertain moody Pakistan, also in the 2018/19 campaign, they will be facing the
slightly unexpected last ICC Champions Trophy winners.
Initially, pace-bowling expert Gibson will be hamstrung - in
the Bangladesh series - by the absence of far more speedsters than he would
like; on the crocked list are such heavyweights as Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn,
Vernon Philander, Chris Morris and also still the 21-year-old hot prospect
But it will give him a chance to examine depth, and whether
alternatives like Dane Paterson, Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo are
proper, longer-term options in that department.
Another point of interest will be whether Temba Bavuma - an
electric fielder, which is something the ODI squad could use more of these days - can double as an effective, explosive enough limited-overs batting customer
for South Africa.
He has played one prior ODI for the Proteas, and duly
thumped 113 against Ireland at Benoni last season, sharing opening duty with
Quinton de Kock.
But where you would bat him under current circumstances is
an intriguing issue - could he become a Jonty Rhodes sort of eager worker in
the middle order, for example? - as veteran Hashim Amla is back to assume his
own rightful mantle, presumably, at the front of the order.
Bangladesh do boast the scalp of the Proteas (2-1) the last
time they played a bilateral series, but that was on the vastly different
Subcontinent in 2015, and they have not yet beaten South Africa even once
during a series here previously.
With due respect to the Tigers, the next few days - after
Kimberley, the circus moves to further international backwaters Paarl and East
London - should allow Gibson and company the liberty of “trying things” and
not being too bogged down by an overly formulaic script ...
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