The T20 World Cup has come a year and a coach too soon for the Proteas, writes RYAN VREDE.
The Proteas announced their World Cup squad on Thursday, and I was surprised at the level of expectancy within the South African cricket fraternity.
There were times when Proteas teams travelled to major tournaments with high expectations rooted in reality. This World Cup shouldn’t be one of those.
The suggestion that ‘anything can happen in a big tournament’ is nonsensical. The Proteas would have to rely on a lot of ‘anythings happening’ to stand a chance to win. The team is talented, appreciably so in fact. That hasn’t yet bloomed into the type of consistency that relies on talent to be merged with temperament and a broad range of skills.
Even after their victory in the series opener against Sri Lanka, under Mark Boucher the Proteas have won just 11 of 25 T20I matches. Three of those 11 victories came against Ireland, who are ranked 12th in the world, six places below the Proteas.
Thirteen of those 24 matches have been played in South Africa. Furthermore, before beating Ireland 3-o in a recent series, they’d only once won two successive matches.
This is not the record of a contender for the title. I fail to see where the hope of many Proteas supporters is rooted.
To progress from their pool into the semi-final, the Proteas would probably have to win three of four matches against England, Australia, West Indies and, most likely, Sri Lanka. They’d then have to put together back-to-back victories to claim the title. I don’t think this side is at the point where they can reasonably be expected to do this.
Yet, it is exactly their intention, evidenced by the offerings of selections chief Victor Mpitsang. ‘There is no better time than now for us to bring home the trophy and bring the nation together in a way that only sport can,’ he said at Thursday’s squad announcement.
I understand why Mpitsang said this. They can’t be seen to be unambitious. I would be deeply surprised if he really believed this Proteas side actually has a shot at achieving the stated goal.
Talent is ever-present, but that talent has not yet grown into the fullness of what it can be. To get there requires a combination of many things, not least of all highly competent coaching.
In this regard, Boucher is not the man. Setting aside his mediocre record in ODI and Test cricket, a win ratio of under 50% in T20I cricket across 24 matches speaks volumes. It would be hard to argue that he has not been given enough time. Some of his predecessors have been subjected to absolute judgements of their competency in half this period.
It has been widely reported that ill-discipline and a lack of professionalism from certain players and management have gripped the culture. It is said to be at the heart of why assistant coach Enoch Nkwe stepped down recently. Results and performances seem to be consistent with a team who are lacking elite-level coaching and discipline.
It is true that the selectors have done Boucher no favours by omitting Faf du Plessis. His experience, talent, temperament and leadership would have been an asset to the Proteas. Yet, Du Plessis alone wouldn’t have been a defining force.
It also bothers me that they’ve abandoned their investment in George Linde in favour of Keshav Maharaj, who was uncapped in T20I cricket at the time of the announcement. This despite the selectors having numerous chances to pick Maharaj, but retaining faith in Linde. It reflects a deep uncertainty about who their best team is.
I’m also surprised at the omission of Kyle Verreynne. The selectors went with Heinrich Klaasen in a move that feels like a safe move designed to give comfort and avoid uncertainty. There is nothing progressive about that thinking.
These things aside, this team has potential. But they arrive at the World Cup raw and unrefined.
That refinement will take time, but it will also take another coach. The current one is out of his depth and has taken the team as far as he possibly can.