South Africa’s fortunes at the T20 World Cup will determine how we look back at the last 12 months.
The general feeling until now has been one of decline, both on and off the field. Results in the Test arena, South Africa’s proudest format for almost 10 years, took a nosedive against India and England while a match-fixing scandal in the Ram Slam competition has rocked the domestic scene.
South Africa have managed to turn things around of late, coming back from 2-0 down against England in the ODI series to win 3-2. They also won the two T20 internationals which has allowed them to end the summer, and the hosting of England, on a positive note after losing the Test series 2-1.
Now a familiar challenge awaits, one which has filled players and fans alike with expectation followed by disappointment for many years – an ICC event. In this case it’s the T20 World Cup, the most unpredictable, freaky format of them all.
I still don’t believe a team should use T20 cricket as a measure of success. It’s basically a freak show over 40 overs in which anything can happen. Just look at England’s remarkable collapse in the second T2o at the Wanderers.
There is no psychological edge gained from the two T20Is for South Africa, because what happened to England can just as easily happen to them or any other team and because it’s only 20 overs each, there’s no time to turn things around. It’s about luck, a lot of luck, and whichever team’s batsmen are better on the day.
South Africa have had rotten luck in World Cups. Russell Domingo has enjoyed most of his success as Proteas coach in the shortest format and yet it’s no guarantee that his team will walk away from the tournament with a trophy, even if it will bring back a much needed feel-good mood which has been sorely lacking in South African cricket of late.
Domingo himself admitted the unpredictable nature of the format when he said their goal would be to reach the semi-finals because anything can happen from there. You can’t really plan to win a T20 final. One freak run-out or one mis-hit by a key batsman can cause things to rapidly go downhill with little or no time to recover. While this is true in general, the number of overs in T20s make it difficult to turn things around.
And yet it will do South Africa a world of good if they could win the T20 World Cup. One could argue the sport and its fans have never needed it more.
There is reason to be optimistic about their chances. However, a team consisting of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn (hopefully) and a world-class spinner in Imran Tahir should do well in most circumstances.
Du Plessis feels the best possible 15 players are, for the first time, going to the event. They’ve beaten England and now Australia await before they head off to India, the place where they won a T20 and ODI series as recently as October last year.
The match-fixing scandal is far from over, black players are unhappy about being picked but not played which, according to Cricket South Africa CEO Haroon Lorgat, compelled him to effectively sweep Aaron Phangiso’s drunk flying incident under the carpet.
All this while a coach like Domingo doesn’t like, or understand, public and media criticism.
South Africa need a feel-good story. The rise of Kagiso Rabada has certainly been one. And while it remains risky for fans to place their hope on a T20 World Cup, it will have to do. For now.