The tour of India was always going to be a baptism of fire for Enoch Nkwe and his inexperienced Proteas Test squad, writes Philasande Sixaba.
They have been comprehensively beaten in the first two Tests and have subsequently foregone any hope of winning the three-match series with a game to spare in Ranchi.
But this side have not been completely humiliated and their performances in this series haven’t been devoid of sheer determination and effort – they need to be given time to develop in this crucial rebuilding phase. The first innings in both matches in Visakhapatnam and Pune are testimony to the commitment and fight that this Proteas side have shown in the series.
After India piled on the runs in both their first innings, the expectation would have been a usual South African batting collapse in the sub-continent which was not the case as the core senior players in captain Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock all produced brilliant knocks with the bat.
The pair of Elgar and De Kock were particularly impressive in their display of resolve, skill and application in a massive partnership that took South Africa just 71 runs short of India’s mammoth 507-2 total.
While those senior players failed to replicate their heroics in Pune, the first-innings effort from the lower order was yet another positive that Nkwe would have taken out of the tour so far. An injured Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander frustrated the Indians by putting on a partnership worth over 100 runs and again in the second innings the pair put together a 50-run stand.
Although the Proteas’ efforts did not do much to avoid inevitable defeats in both Tests, they will cling on to the results of the grit and determination they showed.
In saying that, I believe Nkwe needs to be afforded time to develop in international cricket as a head coach and both the under-pressure pair of Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn need to be backed for the foreseeable future. They have Test-match level experience now in a squad that has in the last 18 months lost heaps of that in Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla.
There are challenges, though, to the development of this Test team and all South African cricket teams, which is the uncertainty of the domestic game. There is still a quarrel between CSA and the players’ association over the proposed restructure of domestic cricket, with CSA looking to scrap the existing six-team franchise system in favour of a 12-team provincial system.
While these changes might focus on growing the pool of players, it does cast fears and doubts for a number of players who might lose out on employment. Whatever challenges this restructuring might cause, CSA’s responsibility is to make sure that they protect and back the state of cricket in the country heading into the future.
There will surely be more lows for this team in the rebuilding phase, but they need the backing from Cricket South Africa and the cricket-loving public in the country.
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