Cape Town - The turnaround between tours is so negligible,
and rushed, that the Proteas have sacrificed their pretty traditional OR Tambo
International Airport departure press conference on Saturday.
Instead, a preview-purposes media opportunity ahead of the
three-formats trek to New Zealand – featuring coach Russell Domingo and two
captains Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers – has effectively been latched onto
the post-match interview obligations once the SA v Sri Lanka summer finally
ends with the fifth one-day international at Centurion on Friday.
That means less than 24 hours between now-merciful finish of
the ‘Lankan hostilities and start of the limited-overs squad’s (very) long haul
to the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Certain, perhaps more fortunate, Tests-only players will fly
over to join the cause at month’s end.
Correct me if I am off the mark, but isn’t it a far from
satisfactory, near-unprecedented development that many Proteas “crossover”
players will have had zero flush-out time between the Sri Lanka and NZ rosters?
No feet-up liberty of any kind with family and friends?
A minor blessing is that there is the relative – only
relative, mind -- decency of six days’ acclimatisation to New Zealand
conditions, before next Friday sees the ubiquitous once-off Twenty20 encounter
against the Black Caps, immediately preceding five ODIs and then three Tests.
Nor does completion of the agenda in New Zealand do anything
to signal “end of season” for South Africa’s most multi-talented and marketable
Far from it.
Those who play in the lucrative, giddying Indian Premier
League – marking its 10th edition this year – have to scramble to
the Subcontinent quite smartly: the third Test against the Black Caps is
scheduled to finish in Hamilton on March 29, and the IPL clicks into action on
April 5, lasting until a marathon May 21.
Little wonder that Du Plessis, currently in a rich vein of
personal form, put up an Instagram picture on Thursday with a dog, lamenting:
“Last time I get to have breakfast with this one before touring starts. Next
time I see him he won’t be a puppy anymore.”
But the climax of the IPL also hardly sees Du Plessis and
other national colleagues step off the whizzing treadmill of global cricketing
The Proteas, only three days after the IPL final, play their
first match (May 24) on a particularly lengthy tour of England, which features
three ODIs against the host nation, then the important ICC Champions Trophy (another
curse-burying opportunity, of course), followed by T20s and Tests against
England that only come to completion on August 8.
It is a crazy period for those who will play integral roles
in all the obligations listed, even if a phenomenon hardly unique to South African
My fear is the ability – though maybe ability isn’t the
ideal word; we know they have that -- of the Proteas to sustain their
marvellous intensity of the past few months, via both mental and physical
means, for the really critical stuff on the horizon which is the Champs Trophy
and four heavyweight Tests against the English for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy.
They have played consistently urgent, dynamic and majestic
cricket (all-conquering, too) pretty much since the home New Zealand Test
series in now distant August 2016; it is going to be a mighty challenge, in
terms of freshness considerations, to sustain such excellence for an almost
equivalent-length period of key work ahead.
Hearts seem highly likely to remain willing – they are an
admirably united and cohesive group – but minds and bodies run the considerable
risk of lagging a crucial bit behind, through no special culpability on the
part of the players.
Perhaps their best hope of ongoing success is that the
opponents they encounter will be jaded, to varying degrees, from overload as
Certainly a team like Australia, just for example, have
arguably been served with an even more obscene volume of commitments in this
particular southern-hemisphere season.
Since spring, they have played, in Test series, Sri Lanka
away, South Africa at home and Pakistan at home, and are about to embark on a
taxing four-Test assignment in India.
Their ODI obligations, meanwhile, have included Sri Lanka
away, Ireland and SA in SA, home and away series against New Zealand for the
Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, and Pakistan at home.
What’s more, they are on the brink of squeezing in the Sri
Lankans – yes, the very same side probably weary and dispirited from their
South African safari – in a rather vacuous-looking trio of T20 contests Down
Is it any wonder that swashbuckling opening batsman David
Warner slammed as “very, very poor scheduling” the bizarre fact that the
Aussies will play the T20s at the very same time as their Test squad are
acclimatising in India?
There is simply too much international cricket of too little
relevance -- somehow also clouding the really rightful, prestigious fare -- and
it will have an increasingly corrosive effect on the well-being of the game as
a whole. If you don’t believe me, watch this space.
For the good of the game, I hope some sort of “less is more”
realisation dawns on senior administrators before it becomes too late, and free
agency, either full or partial, becomes depressingly rife among the planet’s most
appealing cricketers in their very primes.
I was fairly harsh on De Villiers when he revealed recently
his controversial pick-and-choose personal plans for the future, and I still
feel it is an absolute sickener for the game’s most prestigious format that he
will sit out the England Tests.
But I am also coming around more and more to understanding
why, after 388 appearances for his country across the formats and at age almost
33, he has made some tough, preservation-minded and sanity-conscious choices …
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