SA20 has helped Proteas stars handle T20 World Cup pressure

PREVIOUSLY a fringe international player, Heinrich Klaasen has transformed into arguably the most dangerous white-ball batter in the world. Photo: AFP

PREVIOUSLY a fringe international player, Heinrich Klaasen has transformed into arguably the most dangerous white-ball batter in the world. Photo: AFP

Published Jun 26, 2024


Comment by Zaahier Adams

IT was only a few years ago that this Proteas squad was labelled a group of no-name brands.

They had the destructive force of Quinton de Kock at the top of the order and Kagiso Rabada’s fearsome pace, but to a large degree they were devoid of the ‘superstar’ factor that previous Proteas teams boasted, in the form of modern-day legends such as AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Dale Steyn.

That’s not even stretching further back to the previous golden era of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock.

Yet there they are at the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean in another major ICC tournament semi-final, following last year’s 50-overs semi in Kolkata, in the space of just over six months.

The South Africans will face Afghanistan early on Thursday morning (2.30am SA time start) at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba, Trinidad and Tobago for a place in Saturday’s final, against either India or England, who square off later on Thursday (4.30pm SA time) in the second semi-final at the Guyana National Stadium.

It has been a dramatic turnaround in white-ball fortunes for the SA national team.

It is no coincidence that the birth of the SA20, and its subsequent two highly successful seasons, has coincided with it.

A stage was finally created for a greater number of South African cricketers to be exposed to high-pressure cricket, played in front of packed stadiums, on a regular basis.

— Proteas Men (@ProteasMenCSA) June 26, 2024

Former captain Smith, in his role as SA20 commissioner, stated from the outset that the objective of the tournament was to increase the pool of talent around the national team.

This has already been seen with the emergence of young players such as MI Cape Town opening batter Ryan Rickelton, Durban’s Super Giants’ Matthew Breetzke and Joburg Super Kings’ Donovan Ferreira.

But the real benefit has been the way players have taken their game to the next level – none more so than Heinrich Klaasen.

Previously a fringe international player, Klaasen has transformed into arguably the most dangerous white-ball batter in the world.

It all started in SA20 Season 1 when Klaasen smashed his maiden T20 century for Durban’s Super Giants against Pretoria Capitals.

It provided him with the self-belief that he could play his naturally aggressive game at the highest level.

Equally, Klaasen’s former room-mate Aiden Markram has experienced a renaissance of sorts due to the SA20.

— Proteas Men (@ProteasMenCSA) June 26, 2024

The former teenage prodigy went through a period when his immense talent could have been lost to international cricket, but through the SA20 his confidence levels were restored.

His century in the Season 1 play-off against Joburg Super Kings showed that he possessed the mental strength to play the big innings when it mattered most.

But it was not just his batting that was reinvigorated. Markram’s leadership skills came to fore in the SA20, with the former national Under-19 captain leading the Sunrisers Eastern Cape to back-to-back titles over the past two seasons.

The experience has certainly paid off in this T20 World Cup, where Markram’s leadership has played a prominent role in the Proteas’ run in the USA and the Caribbean.

The maturity of young players such as Sunrisers duo Tristan Stubbs and Marco Jansen has also been remarkable, which owes a large degree to being part of the Eastern Cape outfit’s double success.

Jansen was the leading wicket-taker in SA20 Season 2, while Stubbs found a way to manage the expectation of being the highest paid player at R9.2 million by topping the Sunrisers’ run-scoring charts.

The biggest success story is seamer Ottniel Baartman, though.

Having previously been regarded as a journeyman domestic cricketer – who moved from Oudtshoorn via Bloemfontein to Durban to forge a career – Baartman catapulted himself into the national framework by being the leading wicket-taker in SA20 history.

Regardless of whether the Proteas clinch the T20 World Cup title or not, the players are certainly now brands that everyone knows, and that has plenty to do with SA20.