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South Africa’s future could depend on selection

South Africa's future could depend on selection

15 October 2019, by: The Popping Crease

South Africa’s future could depend on selection

It can be said with a certain amount of conviction that South Africa’s 2019 tour of India is among the worst they have endured in the sub-continent. Team selection and questionable roles within the side have played a major role in the debacle that this tour has turned into.

For a team in transition after the retirements of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel; South Africa have a lot of regrouping to do and much of that might need to start sooner rather than later.


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To calm down the unrest among fans after the crushing series loss, Cricket South Africa chief, Thabang Moroe, reached out to fans earlier this week.

“It was always going to be a difficult challenge taking on the top team in the world – certainly under their own conditions – in India at a time when we have introduced a new team structure,” Moroe said in a press statement.

“In the past two years we have had to bid farewell to some of the great names of international cricket such as AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn who between them played nearly 450 Test matches for the Proteas. You don’t replace that kind of experience overnight and we need to give a new generation time to settle.”

He was merely echoing the sentiments of captain Faf du Plessis who had also spoken about bearing with them during their transition phase.

The question, though, is if there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In early 2018, South Africa had formulated the much-spoken about “Vision 2019” with a bid to bring back the World Cup. That came apart rather dramatically in England earlier this year. In Tests, a format where South Africa consider themselves a more confident bunch than their meek self in ICC limited-overs events, the Proteas usually have a better plan.

But multiple retirements, a few Kolpak losses and the inability of some franchise talents to step up have seen South Africa struggling with their transition period more than expected.

The way forward is important for the Proteas and they will need to work on the move given that the new Test Championship is underway.

The primary concern after the India tour will be their batting group. Since 2018, the team batting average of the top order (positions 1-7) has fallen to a questionable 30.84, the seventh-best in the world.

It’s important to remember that this figure was 39.86 between 2016 and 2018, the third-best after India and Australia. Even though global batting numbers have come down, the slide from the third-best batting team to seventh best isn’t justifiable.

This calls for non-performers to be dropped from the side and reinstated with established domestic talents, but how promising are the Test-caps-to-be?

The primary spot under scrutiny is that of the openers. With Dean Elgar 32 years old and Aiden Markram not fulfilling his promise, the first objective would be to find able back-ups.

There are no readymade options available but the likes of Janneman Malan, Pieter Malan and Edward Moore offer promise. Unless a few things change and youngsters are given opportunities at the highest level, we might never know what the future looks like.

The middle-order is shaky too with two giants – AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla – leaving massive voids. Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock are certainties to retain places while Faf du Plessis is edging closer to following his schoolmate with each passing series.

Long-term replacements are what South Africa would seek in the middle-order and they will have their eyes on Kyle Verreynne, Keegan Petersen and Sinethemba Qeshile (another back-up wicket-keeping option along with Verreynne) among the younger lot.

Rassie van der Dussen, who was seen lurking with the Test team post the T20I series in India, would likely step in for the very next series.

Zubayr Hamza is another player in the squad who is next in line. Theunis de Bruyn, despite his inconsistent returns, will be another key player in South Africa’s plans.

Sorting this middle-order is a cumbersome task that any future coach (team manager) would have to wholeheartedly take up because there are no instant solutions or freakishly talented players like de Villiers.

The bowling group looks a lot more promising than the batting unit despite recent Kolpak departures in this department. The bowling average is only slightly poorer than India, Pakistan and West Indies amongst the old ten Test teams since 2018. Therefore statistically backing up the notion that the batting has let down South Africa’s bowlers.

With Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje all set to hit their prime, and Keshav Maharaj an able spinner, this side of things is less worrisome.

Amongst batting all-rounders, Wiaan Mulder and Senuran Muthusamy make compelling cases and can be interchanged and selected based on conditions.

Identifying precise roles within the side, as much as selection, would be a key part of South Africa’s goals in this transition phase. The next generation of South African cricketers are warming up and despite all concerns, the talent stream coming through the pipeline is steady. It just needs constant attention, patience and nurturing for the Proteas to develop into a world-beating side again.

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