Roster brutality WILL catch up on Proteas

2017-02-09 13:07
Proteas celebrate (AFP)

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 cricketers.

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 activity.

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 competitors alone.

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 well.

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 Under.

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 …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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