Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says a lack of superstar players could prove a blessing in disguise for South Africa … if they are shaped into a cohesive collective.
The series whitewash against Zimbabwe was to be expected, thus the Proteas shouldn’t have a false sense of security as they head off for an ODI series and one-off T20 tie against Australia next month.
As far as the ODI set-up is concerned, everything that the Proteas do from now on will be measured against the backdrop of what is going to happen at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in the UK. With only 13 ODIs remaining before the showpiece event, preparation is important. However, at the end of the day, you are not chasing after performance-related issues because the conditions are going to differ.
In the coming months, I will be looking for other elements that will add value to the team under pressure circumstances. Yes, you may be able to make runs, but the question is, ‘Can you bat well under pressure and are you fit enough to complete X number of overs?’
In terms of the latter, the returning Dale Steyn certainly ticked that box against Zimbabwe. The veteran fast bowler has come through the test and it has given the selectors the confidence to be able to pick him. Meanwhile, Imran Tahir has firmly entrenched himself as South Africa’s premier spinner in the 50-over format.
The Proteas produced a top bowling performance in the second ODI, albeit against a Zimbabwean outfit desperately out of their depth. They stuck to a plan and hit the right areas when needed. Tahir became the fourth South African to take an ODI hat-trick and claimed match-winning figures of 6-24.
There is talk of playing two spinners at the World Cup, but I believe the Proteas are not going to go that route in English conditions. They are, instead, going to play their fourth seamer, who can wield the willow and add depth to their batting lineup. Tabraiz Shamsi has been included as a member of South Africa’s squad to tour Australia, but he certainly wouldn’t be in my World Cup plans. I don’t see the left-arm spinner proving a factor in UK conditions, and his batting and fielding contributions don’t warrant him holding down a place. If you pick Shamsi in your XI, your tail starts to look terrible.
I would select Dean Elgar and JP Duminy as my secondary spinners and keep a spot open for the recovering Vernon Philander, who could offer a fourth seamer option and strengthen the batting, which has been brittle. With AB de Villiers having called time on his international career, the Proteas are without his batting genius. By all accounts, the current Proteas team is not filled to the brim with marquee players but, instead, have hardworking, journeymen cricketers who can do the business.
In the past, we boasted superstars like Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and De Villiers – yet we still failed to get the job done at World Cups. The fact that it has been 20 years since the Proteas have won an ICC-sanctioned event – the Champions Trophy in 1998 – tells its own tale. The current Proteas squad list doesn’t jump off the page, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. In order to be successful, though, we need to maximise the experience, knowledge and talent there is and to shape the team into a cohesive unit. It will require playing smart cricket and a dose of luck to win a World Cup.
Winning the World Cup trophy is the Holy Grail for the Proteas, but beating Australia in Australia would be a great boost for South African cricket. Coach Ottis Gibson and the selection panel need to understand that because, right now, sport has got a big role to play in South Africa. Success against Australia can serve as a unifying force for our country. As such, I believe we should pick our best XI in an effort to beat Australia in an away ODI series for the first time since the memorable 2008-09 tour.
PAT SYMCOX COLUMNS
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