The Proteas did not make it to the knockout round in the last T20 world cup and will be looking to set things right in Australia this year. The series against India alone was enough to help the coaching staff pick up things that need to be fixed and for the selectors to see which gaps need to be closed in terms of selection. The next series against England will present the coaching staff and selectors with an opportunity to make the necessary changes. There are several questions that the Proteas need to answer ahead of the world cup.
Style of Play
The Proteas first need to determine the brand of cricket they want to play and find ways to win matches with it. For a while now it has come across as if the team just goes out there without even a proper game plan. Teams that win world cups are teams that know and understand their own brand of cricket, teams that have multiple game plans that fit within their brand of cricket. The Proteas need to establish how they want to play and how they want to play matches then establish how each player’s selected fits into the brand and game plans. In an interview, Mark Boucher once said they want to play aggressive but smart cricket. That did not last long. In the last T20 world cup, the Proteas were let down mostly by the batters and chances are, they will take the same batters to the world cup. The question would then be, have the batters improved since last time? However, it is the Proteas’ responsibility to answer the question ahead of the world cup. If the Proteas’ batting lineup has not improved, the Proteas will most likely fail again at the world cup. How the team bats will determine how far the team goes in the tournament. The Proteas batting approach.
The next key area that the Proteas need to get right is selection. Selectors in any sport, play a massive role in the success of a team, especially in tournaments like the world cup. One wrong selection could affect the whole team and its success. It was clear to see from the recently concluded series against India that the Proteas selectors still have a bit of work to do. If the Proteas are to get the right balance in their squad and playing eleven, the selectors may need to relook at some selections. A player like Reeza Hendricks came in for Quinton de Kock. These two players are in no way similar and so having one replace the other affected the balance of the side. Quinton is aggressive early on, and his role is generally to give the team good starts as opposed to Reeza, who is a slow starter. Having Reeza in the side meant that the team now had 3 players who are similar in playing style, Reeza, Temba and Rassie are all slow starters. Having all 3 of them in your starting eleven will put other batters under enormous pressure to score even quicker than they normally do in order to accommodate these 3 batters. It is also crucial that the Proteas selectors get it right in the spin department too. One might argue that Tabraiz Shamsi is guaranteed a spot in the side based on his recent performances and his T20I ranking. Who should partner Shamsi is a key question? With Jansen, Parnell and Pretorius all being picked in the side as seam-bowling allrounders alongside Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada and Lungisani Ngidi, an extra spinner is most likely sacrificed. Spinners play a significant role in the shorter formats. Aiden Markram missing out meant that the side was only left with 2 spin bowling options because there was no other spinner in the side. Perhaps an extra spinner could replace Marco Jansen in the side to bring a big or balance. Having only two frontline spinners in the side means that, you either must stick with them regardless of their returns or pick a seamer as a replacement for the spinner that is not doing well. Not having enough spinners in a T20 match is as good as suicide.
Temba Bavuma has proven to be a quality captain and has done quite well as captain. Having a good captain in cricket is particularly important not only in the context of world cups but in everyday cricket. While a lot of credit can be given to Temba for his captaincy, he too has a few things he needs to work on in order to improve the chances of the Proteas at the world cup. His decision-making in the series against India was found wanting at times and this is something he will need to improve. This obviously also applies to whoever is involved in the decision-making in the team. In the first T20I against India, chasing over 200 runs to win, Dwaine Pretorius was promoted to bat 3. The decision to promote Pretorius was a good one and was praised by many people, it helped Proteas win the match. It became confusing to see Dwaine Pretorius bat 3 in all matches. Nobody knows whether it was pre-planned or they decided to go with it since it worked in the first T20I. Regardless of the reason behind bringing Pretorius at 3 in all matches, it is important for any captain to be able to read match situations properly and know when to promote a pinch hitter. A pinch hitter at 3 is always a gamble so it is important to choose your moments wisely. The other decision was the decision to open with a spinner. Opening with a spinner in any format is a serious gamble considering the hardness of the ball. It is important to know why you are opening with a spinner and not just do it because it once worked. Opening with a spinner when the two opening batters are comfortable against spin or opening with a spinner even when your spinner is not good with the new ball could lose you matches.
The Proteas will take on England, one of the most aggressive sides in international cricket right now. This could be a daunting task, a task that could make or break them based on how the team is selected and how the team decides to play. How the Proteas decide to play will be particularly important and some senior players will be hoping to find their form. The Proteas need to start working on the key areas as soon as the series against England, in preparation for the world cup.