The senior players will be under pressure to lift the team’s standards in what will be a crucial Test series against Bangladesh.
New coach Ottis Gibson has said that the Proteas have the structures as well as the personnel to reclaim the No 1 Test ranking and to win the 2019 World Cup. At the same time, the straight-shooting Barbadian has admitted that a significant technical and mental shift won’t happen overnight.
South Africa’s two Tests against Bangladesh will present the coaches as well as the players with an important opportunity. Gibson, who only reported for duty in mid-September, will have the chance to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the players and management members over the course of the series. The players, of course, should be keen to show the new coach what they can offer ahead of the more challenging contests against India and Australia.
These are important times for South African cricket. One would expect the Proteas to claim two wins against the ninth-ranked Test side in the world. One would hope that the team plays with more intensity and direction than they did on the recent tour to England.
Indeed, it could be argued that the quality of the performances in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein will be more important than the results. The four-Test series against England highlighted the technical and mental deficiencies of the side. The players, and more specifically the senior men, could deliver a statement to the new coach with a more determined and composed performance against Bangladesh.
Captain Faf du Plessis believes that Gibson will demand more of this Proteas side going forward. Those who know Gibson well, such as former South African skipper Kepler Wessels, believe that the no-nonsense Barbadian is exactly what the Proteas need at this juncture.
Gibson, however, will take some time to settle and implement his own ideas and structures. For now, one would hope that the leaders in the side challenge their team-mates to perform at a higher standard.
Down the line, the Proteas will be bolstered by the return of experienced performers such as AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, players who were part of the senior core when South Africa were the No 1 Test side in the world. Down the line, the return of Vernon Philander and Chris Morris will boost the bowling attack and lend some balance to a side that is in desperate need of all-rounders.
Du Plessis will be under pressure to perform with the bat in the coming series. He should also be looking to make a statement of intent with his leadership.
One would hope to see more intensity from the players in the field this summer. A lack of intensity and accuracy – read drop catches – certainly cost the Proteas in the recent series against England.
Sad to say it, but the current Proteas team doesn’t compare to the South African sides of old in the fielding department. That needs to change.
Gibson, who served as the England bowling coach in the recent series against South Africa, will also be looking for a more composed and patient approach by the Proteas batsmen. He should already have a good idea of their weaknesses.
Aiden Markram is an exciting prospect and has the ability to be something very special for South Africa in future. At this stage, however, the onus is on Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla to set the standard and shoulder the bulk of the responsibility at the top of the order.
The good news for the Proteas is that all three men will head into the Test series with some form. Elgar and Markram put on 184 for the first wicket in a recent match for the Titans. Amla cracked 189 for the Cobras in a match against the Knights.
The 2017-18 season promises to be an important one for Amla. While he was one of the Proteas’ top performers in England, he was well below his best. The Proteas will need Amla, one of the modern-day greats, to make some substantial contributions if they are to win the big series against India and Australia in 2018.
The two matches against Bangladesh will provide the Proteas with a chance to find form and confidence in the five-day format. The senior men in particular would do well to make this chance count.