JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s cricket team remains motivated to end its One-Day International series against India with a win, but what has emerged from the five matches against Virat Kohli’s team is how much hard work awaits the Proteas in the 15 months leading up to the World Cup.
As ever, it is in losing that the opportunity arises to learn and in that regard there is plenty for South Africa’s players, coaches and the selectors to learn and hopefully implement.
It’s another five months until the Proteas’ next ODI assignment in Sri Lanka following which, according to selection convener Linda Zondi, experimentation will largely stop, selection will be more refined and for Ottis Gibson, creating strategy and building confidence in the squad will be imperative.
Hashim Amla on Thursday described a “silver lining” of the dark cloud of defeat that’s followed the South Africans around the last few weeks.
“In this series, what’s been highlighted is that we’ve not been able to score runs in the middle period because their spinners have bowled pretty decently and the younger guys, everybody really, has learned a bit more about themselves playing spinners,” said Amla.
“That hasn’t been an issue before, whether it be wrist spinners or other quality spinners, the silver lining is, it highlights it, and only motivates you to get better at it. When it comes to other series or a World Cup, we’ll be better prepared for it.”
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have combined for 30 wickets in the series, and only during the fourth ODI, when a damp outfield made gripping the ball difficult, have South Africa’s batsmen been able to dominate them.
Gibson pointed out following the loss in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday night, that he didn’t expect Yadav and Chahal to have as big an impact at the World Cup next year, because the tournament was being held relatively early in the English season - from the end of May.
Well played to India this series. We learnt some hard lessons.. But definitely will be back stronger and have to keep fighting.
There’s a mental element that’s being learned too for South Africa. “We’ve won so many series in the past, back-to-back, and we were very fortunate like that, none of us ever took it for granted, so to lose a series like this, gets your feet back on the ground, as a one-day unit,” said Amla.
“When you are playing well, someone plays a brilliant innings, cracks can be covered. But when you lose in this manner, whatever adjustments need to be made, you focus even more. For me that’s a very positive thing, you learn, and in sport or business that’s good it’s a healthy situation in one respect.”
It may not seem that way right now, but Amla is right. This has been a big wake-up call for the players, Gibson and the selectors. South Africa have not been helped by the injuries to Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, while the poor form of Quinton de Kock, David Miller and the inconsistency of veteran JP Duminy has added to the home team’s many problems.
In addition, while India’s spinners have ruled the roost, South Africa’s two wrist spinners have barely made an impact on the series - Tabraiz Shamsi, the leading wicket-taker in the domestic One-Day Cup, and Imran Tahir have combined for 37.3 overs, conceded 199 runs and picked up one wicket between them.
Pride is at stake at SuperSport Park on Friday, but so are reputations. South African cricket followers are unaccustomed to seeing their team look so out of its depth, particularly at home.
Zondi’s ‘Vision 2019’ looks decidedly blurry at the moment, and even a consolation win is unlikely to clear matters up in the short term.