Tough decisions ahead for ProteasComment on this story
South Africa will leave the island of Sri Lanka in great spirits. Much has been accomplished here over the past month.
The One-Day International unit keep heading in the right direction and the Test squad are discovering their own new path under the guidance of a new leader.
By all measures, this rescheduled trip to visit Sri Lanka – always a competitive foe – has been full of benefits.
Nobody comes to this country and walks away with a series win, if they haven’t played some fine cricket.
The challenges are also not confined to the conflicting wills of bat and ball; there are mental speed-bumps, as well as physical mountains to overcome when toiling away in this intolerable heat for long periods.
As Dale Steyn has observed more than once, this is a hard place to play cricket. It is a hard place to win, but the South Africans have made a habit of it here.
Wins in these places, on these dustbowls, may not mean so much for preparing the Proteas to win on the hard tracks of Australasia, but they sure as heck don’t hurt the belief-o-meter.
When the likes of David Miller and Quinton de Kock step onto a World Cup stage, it will be a nervous excitement that galvanises them, not a crippling fear that throttles them.
Not for them the weary recollection of doomed missions of the past. And they are all the better for it, too.
Gary Kirsten, the team’s batting consultant, insists that sooner or later this clutch of players will click as one, at once, and find a way to land a Big One.
They are simply too talented to be quarter-final kings, or cup final observers.
Or so the logic goes. But sometimes cricket doesn’t make much sense of logic.
Indeed, talent has a tendency to wither into a shallow nothingness when confronted by the heat of the moment, and that essential ingredient in top-class sport; pressure.
The Proteas have admitted as much, and they will have several more opportunities to address these withering tendencies over the next few months.
But, if they are to address them squarely, they will have to do so by eliminating sentiment from their selections.
Form, and form alone, must be the criteria to be on the plane to the World Cup next year.
Sentiment is for the weak, the meek and indecisive. Sentiment has a horrible way of coming back as senselessness long after the day has bolted, leaving you only with a mind full of regrets and laments.
And it isn’t just the Proteas ODI unit that needs to guard itself from sentiment.
The Test side, too, have holes in their largely impressive wall.
Individual weaknesses are easily masked when the whole is successful, but the Proteas would do well to throw an unsentimental eye on the make-up of their Test outfit.
There are still questions at the top of the order, where Alviro Petersen hasn’t moved from the inconsistency of a novice to the settled manner of a senior player. There are also ever louder calls for Imran Tahir to be confined to coloured clothing only.
These are issues that need addressing. And not next summer, either.
There are second-tier scraps coming up against Zimbabwe and West Indies over the next few months of Test cricket.
These will provide easier pickings for the fresh blood that ought to be introduced to Test cricket now.
South Africa will regain the ICC Test top ranking if they hold on for a draw here in Colombo, but they will know that all those below them are finding ways to get better, to get closer still to them.
For that reason, they must also keep looking for ways to improve.
And always, they must remember that sentiment earns your friends, but it sure as heck doesn’t earn you the big accolades.
Zama is in Sri Lanka with the Proteas covering the tour for Independent News & Media - Sunday Independent