The Proteas need to hit the ground running when they begin their challenging Test Championship campaign in India, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Ashes series marks the start of the new Test Championship, which will conclude with a final at Lord’s in June 2021. The team that emerges victorious in England will stake an early claim for that inaugural Test title.
India may have something to say about that, though. They’re ranked No 1 in the Test format at present, and will fancy their chances of winning the coming games against the West Indies and South Africa.
It’s been more than a month since the Proteas were dumped out of the World Cup after the group stage. It remains to be seen whether the Test side – which may include many of the same players who failed in England – can raise the nation’s hopes for a Test Championship title.
Perhaps we should be optimistic. In 2011, the Proteas were knocked out of the World Cup by New Zealand in the quarter-finals. A year later, the Test side beat England in England to claim the No 1 ranking. Graeme Smith’s charges went on to score an away series victory in Australia a few months later.
Then again, we need to consider what the Proteas will be up against in terms of the schedule this time around. South Africa will play 16 Tests in the lead-up to the Test Championship final in 2021, while England (22), Australia (19) and India (18) will play more.
The ICC has formulated a scoring system aimed at helping teams like South Africa who will play fewer tests during this period. And yet there’s no getting around the fact that the ‘big three’ will play more games and have more chances to accumulate points.
The Proteas will play almost half of their Test Championship games between October 2019 and January 2020. It’s fair to say that South Africa will face their toughest opponents in the first seven games of the 16-match campaign.
The three-Test series in India will be followed by a four-game series against England in South Africa. The Proteas were humiliated the last time they toured India in 2015, and lost 2-1 to England at home in 2016.
Not that the Proteas should be taking their other opponents lightly. The Test team has enjoyed a revival under Ottis Gibson, beating India and Australia in back-to-back series played in South Africa last year. Since then, they’ve lost to Sri Lanka, both home and away.
Gibson enjoyed a gentle introduction as Proteas coach in late 2017. His first assignment was a two-Test series against Bangladesh at home, followed by a one-off against Zimbabwe in Port Elizabeth. The side had an opportunity to build momentum and confidence ahead of the more challenging series against India and Australia.
The Proteas will have to hit the ground running when they arrive in India this October. The two months leading up to that tour will be crucial in terms of preparation.
They will have to make every game count. Rain affected results and the final log standings at the recent World Cup. For teams like South Africa, who will play fewer games over the course of the coming campaign, a rain-affected contested that ends in a draw could prove detrimental to their push for a place in the Test Championship final.
Perhaps the Proteas should count themselves lucky in that they won’t face New Zealand at all during this campaign, as the Kiwis are currently ranked No 2 in the five-day format. At a glance, it’s significant to note that the Proteas will face two of the big three, namely England and Australia, in South Africa.
It’s vital that they start well in India this October, though, and that they avoid another 3-0 drubbing. Even a drawn series in India would represent a promising start to the campaign. A draw or a win in India, followed by a series win against England in South Africa would set them up nicely.
But as past results indicate, this will be easier said than done.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images