Johannesburg - Few things have tested the South African public’s patience this week more than the will-he, won’t-he furore around President Jacob Zuma and, of course, what’s happened to the Proteas.
A fortnight ago, they prevailed 2-1 in a tough test series against India, the top side in the world, yet, by the middle of this week, they were trailing 3-0 in the six-match one-day international (ODI) rubber.
Three things appear to have contributed to the Proteas running the risk of repeating the 5-1 humiliation of 2001 to Ricky Ponting’s Australians, a sorry state of affairs that has seen them record the lowest ODI total at home (118).
Indian captain Virat Kohli – so intense he probably thinks winning the toss is a skills-based contest – has looked as though the only one who can get him out is himself, his first three innings producing 120, 46 not out and an unbeaten 160.
The Proteas batsmen may not have known much about Indian spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, who took 21 of the 27 Proteas wickets that fell in the first three ODIs, before the series, but they knew even less about their deliveries in the middle.
Proteas batsman JP Duminy said he and his counterparts were not picking the Indian pair’s wrong ones. To the untrained eye, it looked as though they weren’t picking the right ones either, making it more a case of death by mystery spin than by wrist spin.
In mitigating circumstances for the hosts, they lost AB de Villiers, captain Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock to injury ahead of yesterday’s pink ODI.
Needless to say, the country has gone into full crisis of faith mode, with many marking the ODI series as the moment coach Ottis Gibson’s honeymoon period came to an end, and others putting the blame squarely at the selectors’ door.
It’s not very South African to go sifting for positives in the aftermath of defeat, but this could well be a cleverly disguised blessing for the Proteas.
In the build-up to the series, Du Plessis declared that the Proteas had the 2019 World Cup as well as winning the rubber in mind. With winning the series a thing of the past, maybe it’s time we looked at the World Cup.
South Africans love their revolutions, but, for some reason, they want them to be bloodless.
In Hashim Amla, De Villiers, Du Plessis, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Morné Morkel and Dale Steyn, the Proteas have players who have served the country with distinction. However, due to age or injury, half of them will be lucky if they make it to the World Cup.
The question then remains that, if that many seniors may not make it to the World Cup, when exactly will we give younger talent such as Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Wiaan Mulder and Tabraiz Shamsi a chance to get ready before they go to England next year?
When Gibson took over coaching the Proteas, he said – perhaps with the team’s well-documented inability to deal with pressure in mind – that he would seek to put his side in pressure situations in the middle.
Few things scream pressure more than having to front up to India, possibly the world’s best exponents of white ball cricket, as a wet behind the ears youngster with no Faf, AB or Quinny to have your back.
Markram’s stint as interim captain has been something approaching a horror show, but if he really is the man to replace Du Plessis, he’ll adjust. But the only way he’ll be able to do that is by playing and being asked to lead in pressure situations.
Ngidi, who made his ODI debut on Wednesday, needs to play to find his level at this level; Phehlukwayo needs international games to rid himself of what appears to be a “see ball, hit ball” mentality; Shamsi has to test himself against the masters of spin; and the theory that Mulder is “Baby Kallis” needs to be put under scrutiny.
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