Proteas: Too many questions, not enough answers

2017-08-08 11:18
Faf du Plessis (Gallo)

Cape Town - The Proteas, well and truly outplayed in their 3-1 Test series loss to England, will be happier than anybody that their tour is over. 

Their first warm-up game was a shortened 50-over affair against Sussex back on May 19, and while most of the players returned to South Africa at some stage of the tour, it has still been a long haul.

Since they left South Africa, the Proteas have lost every series they played in.

England triumphed in the ODI, T20 and Test series' while the Proteas also didn't progress out of the ICC Champions Trophy group stages. 

And while all of those limited overs failings were difficult to watch, it is the Test team that stands out as most in need of urgent attention. 

What this series proved is that there is far too much uncertainty in this set-up. 

Nobody seems to know what the best starting XI is and, even if they do, they certainly have no idea what their best combinations are.

The great Australian side of the early 2000s picked itself, and it seldom ever changed: Langer, Hayden, Ponting, Waugh, Waugh, Martyn, Gilchrist, Warne, Lee, Gillespie, McGrath. 

There was consistency there in abundance. Every player knew his role and, unless there were injuries or extreme conditions, the selectors knew what their best combination was. 

It is obviously not fair to compare one of the greatest Test sides in history to a South African side that is going through some tough times, but some firm decisions have to made, and backed, by the Proteas brains trust. 

Take Quinton de Kock by way of example. 

At Lord's, he made a 50 in the first innings batting at No 7 and was then promoted to No 5 in the second innings. 

In Nottingham and at The Oval, he was then given the No 4 slot, but by the fourth and final Test in Manchester he was back down to No 6 while Temba Bavuma was promoted to No 4. 

Where exactly is De Kock's best position?

It might depend on whether or not South Africa play a specialist all-rounder, but 23 Tests into his career we should have a better idea than this. 

Moving him up and down the order is surely not good for anyone. 

JP Duminy, meanwhile, lasted just one Test before he was dropped and sent home. Theunis de Bruyn was in and out and then in again, and then there is the obvious problem of the opening pair.

Over four Tests, Heino Kuhn averaged less than Morne Morkel with the bat. 

Kuhn had replaced the struggling Stephen Cook at the start of the series, but just four Tests in, his international career could already be over. 

Kuhn is 33, and it doesn't make much sense to wait for him to come good when that time could instead be invested in a promising youngster like Aiden Markram. That is at least one decision that should be pretty straight-forward. 

But what to do with the middle order?

There is a serious lack of depth in South African cricket at the moment, and when you start looking at the domestic structures, there isn't really anyone knocking the door down. 

If De Bruyn is going to have a long future in this side, then surely he should be given an extended run now? 

But AB de Villiers is coming back, isn't he? Is he? When? 

What about Dale Steyn? Is he coming back? When? 

There is far too much uncertainty at the moment, and it doesn't do anything for youngsters like De Bruyn and Duanne Olivier. 

Will they still have a role to play when the old school are fit or decide that they are willing? 

At this crucial stage, De Villiers needs to either make a commitment to this team or retire from the format. 

In South Africa's defence, there was a fair amount of disruption on this tour. Coach Russell Domingo had a tragic family emergency back home that required his urgent attention twice while Faf du Plessis missed the first Test to be in South Africa for the birth of his child.

Vernon Philander's constant struggles with injury and illness also hurt South Africa badly. 

But, even with those unforeseen disruptions, the Proteas still made a mess of the things that were in their control.

Perhaps the biggest uncertainty throughout the series has been the position of head coach, though it seems increasingly likely that the new man in charge will be current England bowling coach Ottis Gibson.

If it is Gibson, he has a serious challenge on his hands. 

He will need to get to work immediately, and when he does, establishing some solid ground would be a good start. 

Where are we exactly? Where do we want to go, and how do we plan on getting there? Once he has answered those questions, he can start putting the building blocks in place. 

South African cricket needs a solid foundation, because right now it is anything but stable. 

Follow Sport24 journalist @LloydBurnard on Twitter...

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