World Cup: Proteas off on (another) painstaking road

2019-09-13 12:06
Quinton de Kock
Quinton de Kock (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Right, the script has been crumpled … let’s try all over again, shall we?

South Africa set off gingerly on Sunday (15:30 our time) on yet another gradual journey toward a still so elusive major-tournament trophy when they tackle India in the first of three Twenty20 internationals at picturesque, high-altitude Dharamshala.

Effectively also launching a new summer for the national team, they will be blooding an inexperienced - at this level - new head coach in Enoch Nkwe and fielding a relatively rookie side, too, in the first step on the road to the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia in some 13 months’ time.

For pure level of gravitas, it is still one of the lesser forms of limited-overs global silverware, but the very fact that the former ICC World Twenty20 has now officially been tweaked to say “World Cup” is a reminder that it is very much an opportunity to finally appease the long-suffering South African public and bring one of the wretched things home.

At least on paper at present, the Proteas don’t look in bad shape at all in the T20 landscape - certainly better than in fuller one-day internationals, where the last World Cup in England ended in pretty abject failure earlier this year.

They are nominally one berth, in third, above India in the official rankings and only trailing leaders Pakistan and England, while also boasting victory in all of their last four T20 bilateral series: from most recent, Sri Lanka (home), Pakistan (home), Australia (away) and Zimbabwe (home).

Yet current circumstances are such that it would take a serious optimist to suggest a side temporarily led by Quinton de Kock - in the short-term absence of Faf du Plessis - will knock over the revered Indian white-ball machine over the course of the next few days.

Hardly helped by some the Proteas squad having had stuttering starts to their Subcontinent experiences this season through participation in one-sided combat for a cowed-looking SA ‘A’ side in India, they simply do not seem worthy of a favourites tag.

There has been upheaval galore of late, both within the SA playing group itself and at team hierarchy level where several management/coaching figures have been changed and far too many “interim” titles being handed out for the liking of many observers.

Although there is a case for saying it is no bad thing, given that the 2016 squad didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, the big cleanout in playing personnel is reflected in how different the 15-strong group looked at the last edition of the World T20 that year (held in India, but won by West Indies).

While bearing in mind the failure to even reach the knockout stage in that tournament, there has nevertheless been a major - and quite disconcerting, in some instances - sacrifice in street wisdom by South Africa since then.

Missing from the present squad, for varying reasons and in several cases permanently, are all of Du Plessis, Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Chris Morris, Aaron Phangiso, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn and David Wiese.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the Proteas will field several customers needing to mature with near-indecent speed over the next few months if they suddenly to develop into trump-cards in Australia next October: right now, they only look weaker - at least on a personal-reputations basis - than they did a year or two back.

Still, if they are to able to take at least a reasonable amount of conviction into Sunday’s tussle, Nkwe might do well to remind his charges that the Proteas got off on the front foot - and in the very same Himalayan centre - in the corresponding match the last time they faced India away (series eventually won 2-0) in bilateral T20 combat in late 2015.

They prevailed by a heartening margin of seven wickets, too, reaching their target of exactly 200 in the last over.

A little less reassuringly, two players who might well have remained major batting figures for them to this day but have since retired from internationals, Duminy and De Villiers, were the engineers of that sprightly chase-down: the left-hander struck 68 not out, for the man-of-the-match laurel, and De Villiers 51.

While generously stocked in bowling options, the crease potential of the 2019 squad is its biggest question mark by far … 

SA squad for Sunday (TV coverage on SS2) and the rest of the three-match series: Quinton de Kock (capt), Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Junior Dala, Bjorn Fortuin, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, David Miller, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, George Linde.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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