There was a time in recent cricket history when the Proteas were a white-ball force. Getting back there is going to take time, but there are signs of life, writes RYAN VREDE.
Last week, Cricket South Africa named a 24-man squad for a three ODI and three T20I series against England in November and December. That Glenton Stuurman was the only player in that group to be called up for the first time, suggests director of cricket Graeme Smith and the selectors are happy with what they saw in the limited-overs series against England and Australia in February and March.
The Proteas lost the three-match T20I series against England 2-1, but the margins were tight, while the ODI series was drawn. This was encouraging given that England is one of the best white-ball sides in the world.
They then lost the three-match T20I series against Australia 2-1. Australia’s victories – by 107 and 97 runs, respectively – were convincing, but the Proteas rebounded with a 3-0 sweep in the ODI series.
They contested these series as a side rebuilding after a disastrous ODI World Cup in 2019. In an ODI context, gone were Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram, JP Duminy and Chris Morris. They were replaced by a younger crop of players who the selectors feel have the potential to steadily climb the rankings (they are currently fifth in both white-ball formats).
Losing Amla and Duminy to retirement left a massive experience and leadership gap, in addition to their consistent contributions with the bat. Moving past Morris was hard, given that he was for a long time seen as the answer to the Proteas’ all-rounder challenge in limited-overs cricket. He is an immensely gifted cricketer, but his talent didn’t reveal itself with anywhere near the consistency required for him to establish himself in the side.
Add to this the waning of Dale Steyn’s potency, and it was always going to be a tough transition period for the Proteas in limited-overs cricket.
There is a way to go yet, but the England series will give us more clarity on the group’s potential. Batting will be in focus, particularly the performances of those in the top five. There were some encouraging signs from Temba Bavuma, Heinrich Klaasen and Jon-Jon Smuts. However, I’m most excited about the development of Janneman Malan and Kyle Verreynne, who have an X factor the aforementioned batters don’t.
Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis come into the series with confidence gained from strong Indian Premier League campaigns. David Miller will be rusty, given that he only played one IPL match. However, he remains one of the game’s most devastating hitters when he is playing well. Rassie van der Dussen showed glimpses of his talent and could be a major asset if his limited-overs career develops like Smith and the selectors think it will.
In the crop of bowling all-rounders – George Linde, Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius – the Proteas have finishing power down the order. Add to that Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada’s competency with the willow and there is reason to be optimistic about the batting unit’s potential.
AB de Villiers will soon be added to at least the T20 mix in a move that will completely transform the entire complexion of the batting. Until then, the personnel available must make a case for themselves.
The bowling unit is underpinned by pacemen Rabada and Anrich Nortje, who have starred in the IPL and carry that form into the England series. Lungi Ngidi was omitted from the Chennai Super Kings side for the majority of the tournament, but was very good when given the opportunity. He looks fitter and stronger than he has at any stage of his career and his broad skills with the ball will be an asset to the Proteas.
Time will tell whether Tabraiz Shamsi can fill the void Imran Tahir has left, while Lutho Sipamla brings skill, variety and a combative attitude to the mix.
The England series will provide some more answers about the group’s potential, further revealing areas of strength and exposing weaknesses. But one has the sense that the core of this squad will form the foundation of a very competitive white-ball unit in the years ahead.
Squad: Quinton de Kock (c), Temba Bavuma, Junior Dala, Faf du Plessis, Bjorn Fortuin, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, George Linde, Keshav Maharaj, Janneman Malan, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lutho Sipamla, Jon-Jon Smuts, Glenton Stuurman, Pite van Biljon, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne.