Johannesburg - Sunday’s third and final One Day International between South Africa and Bangladesh – won by the Proteas by what felt like a million runs, such was their dominance throughout the three-match series – marked the hosts’ first step towards the 2019 World Cup under new coach Ottis Gibson.
While the results (wins by 10 wickets, 104 and 200 runs) suggested an emphatic blast off, the league cricket feel to the Bangladeshi team’s resistance also just about summed up what Gibson would have learnt from the series – which is zero.
World Cup squad
As gently as the rocky road to hopeful world domination has begun, the 32 matches or so that remain before the tournament proper in England leave Gibson with many potholes to negotiate if he is to succeed in turning the Proteas into a team that doesn’t just impress in between World Cups.
The first is how many of veterans Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn will make it into the World Cup squad.
By virtue of being captain Du Plessis, provided his dodgy back doesn’t pack it in altogether in the next couple of years, is all-but guaranteed to go to England, but the rest almost have to prove themselves week in and week out to get there.
As readily as most of the names of the senior Proteas trip off our tongues, most have a lot to prove in very different ways.
Tahir may tear around the outfield like a teenager after claiming each scalp, but he will be 40 by the World Cup. At 36 Amla will be at an age where conditioning is as important as a hunger for runs, and he doesn’t strike one as an Aussie-like trainer.
Better placed than most
If the Bangladesh series is anything to go by, De Villiers’ brutal artistry is inspired by lots of rest, but having committed to playing for SA in all formats will the spark still be there in 2019? Steyn and Morkel’s increasingly brittle bones are well-documented, as is Duminy’s rare ability to command selection as an allrounder who hardly scores runs or takes wickets.
And Big Vern not only has a job on his hands disproving the widely held suspicion he is not a limited overs bowler, he also has his new battle against the bulge to overcome.
Having finished playing cricket as a 38-year-old fast bowler, Gibson is better placed than most to pass judgement on how those players’ determination to make it to England 2019 will manifest itself.
His philosophy is that enjoyment is a big part of it, and time will tell who still loves being out in the sun or who’s dialling in their performances hoping to get a Word Cup winner’s medal.
Return to franchise
Of course, culling those seen to be merely holding on for their piece of South African cricketing history is one thing, suitably replacing them to join the world class talents of Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock is another.
To that end Temba Bavuma and Aiden Markram have been introduced on the batting side, the teenaged Wiaan Mulder has joined Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell and Dwaine Pretorius in auditioning for that troublesome number seven spot, and Keshav Maharaj was recently roped in possibly as spinner Tahir’s replacement.
Also, Lungi Ngidi’s sensational return to franchise cricket a few days ago hopefully means the fast bowler can pick up from his encouraging start as an international cricketer before injury got in the way.
But all need precious caps to be ready for the World Cup, which sounds simple enough until you consider that the senior players will be fighting for the same 30-odd caps to prove they still deserve to be there.
It will also be interesting to see an outsider’s take to solving the Jacques Kallis-sized allrounder problem in the team.
Is Mulder, who much like Kallis is rated a top five batsman and a frontline bowler at franchise level, suddenly the new favourite? Will Gibson make a Swiss watch out of the infamously inconsistent Parnell, or upgrade Pehlukwayo from his sometimes schoolboy approach of “see ball, hit ball”?
So many questions, and we haven’t even talked about how Gibson will deal with the C-word...
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