FEATURE: Cricket’s roller-coaster summer

By Zaahier Adams Time of article published Mar 29, 2020

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Were it not for the Covid-19 pandemic that has put everything into perspective, the past South African cricket summer would be labelled a national disaster.

The game’s controlling body, Cricket SA, found a way to run head first into one crisis after the other, and the consequences were wide-ranging and debilitating. It was not the first time that CSA had encountered administrative issues. But unlike in previous years, the blood spilt in the boardroom leaked onto the playing fields, with the Proteas men’s team its biggest casualty.

The proposed clean-up after the World Cup disaster was a cowardly exercise to lay the blame solely at the door of deposed coach Ottis Gibson. Everything from thereon was “interim”, leading to much instability and insecurity within the Proteas environment as new “team director” Enoch Nkwe lasted just three months and one tour of India before being relegated to head coach Mark Boucher’s assistant under the new dispensation headed by acting chief executive Jacques Faul and acting director of cricket Graeme Smith.

The former Proteas Test captain’s appointment, in particular, was lauded by the public seeking a credible and respected figure to provide much-needed direction. However, Smith’s arrival only came about after the departure of Thabang Moroe - CSA’s beleaguered former chief executive. Moroe, though, remains on CSA’s books as a fully-paid member of staff despite being suspended since December. A forensic audit that is underway will define Moroe’s future.

PROTEAS MEN

Captain Faf du Plessis shouldered the responsibility of trying to form a barrier between the “suits” and his team in order for them to function without the additional anxiety of what’s happening “behind the scenes”.

Ultimately it took its toll with Du Plessis being overwhelmed with matters outside of just his team, leading to the loss of his personal form and the team winning just once in nine Tests. While it was inevitable that Du Plessis would eventually step down from his leadership positions, the manner in which it was dealt with by CSA left a lot to be desired as the 35-year-old had given his heart and soul to the cause.

Quinton de Kock assumed the captaincy in both limited-overs formats, but the summer closed with nobody in charge of the Test side.

For the optimists among us, there were elements of hope on display during the 3-1 Test series loss to England that the Proteas possessed the talent to again be a force on the global circuit.

The sole victory at SuperSport Park in the series opener showed what could be achieved. There were individuals who proved they had the technique and mental resolve to succeed at the highest level. It was welcomed due to the fact that the spotlight was firmly on the standard of South Africa’s domestic structures. With the SA U-19 side enduring a miserable home ICC Under-19 World Cup parallel to the England series, the alarm bells were raised.

However, the emergence of fast bowler Anrich Nortje and the fulfilment of Rassie van der Dussen’s potential proved the system was capable of producing quality international cricketers.

Nortje bounced back from a daunting Test debut in India to charge in against the English. With Kagiso Rabada suspended, and Vernon Philander heading off into the Somerset of retirement, the Proteas desperately needed an old-fashioned horseman to carry the attack.

The 26-year-old finished as the leading bowler in the series with 18 scalps. It was a monumental effort that filtered through to the white-ball cricket when Nortje held his nerve in the final over of a crunch T20 at St George’s Park.

South Africa’s Achilles’ heel, though, was the batsmen’s inability to place them in dominant positions. The Proteas suffered heavily from the “30/3” and “100/5” syndrome with precious few able to fulfil the task of consistently scoring Test runs.

De Kock and Van der Dussen tried valiantly to buck this trend. In lieu of the retirements of AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, the new ODI and T20 skipper is South Africa’s sole world class batting superstar.

De Kock virtually single-handedly kept South Africa’s innings together on many occasions with even his teammates admitting they needed to step up for it was not the “Quinton de Kock show”. Van der Dussen’s development is therefore imperative to the long-term wellbeing of the Proteas.

For all the doom in the gloom, the Proteas will, however, hang on tightly to the classic saying “all is well that ends well” due to the season ending on a high with a 3-0 ODI whitewash of arch-enemy Australia.

The much-needed series victory would certainly have given Boucher and his coaching staff, which also includes Proteas legend Jacques Kallis, the belief that they are on the right path, particularly due to the feats of young players such as Heinrich Klaasen, Kyle Verreynne, Janneman Malan and Lungi Ngidi.

South Africa's Mignon Du Preez celebrates at the end of their T20 World Cup match against England, which they won by six wickets at the WACA Ground in Perth. Picture: Richard Wainwright/EPA

PROTEAS WOMEN

Dane van Niekerk and her troops can no longer be treated as the “Cinderellas” of the women’s game. Their stellar performance at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia recently proved that. Elimination in the semi-final was heartbreaking for all involved because everyone knew Van Niekerk’s side had the ability to go all the way.

They pushed eventual champions Australia to the brink in that pulsating, drama-filled semi at the SCG.

In Laura Wolvaardt they are blessed with a batsman of the highest class. She will be the fulcrum the team revolves around in future for she is already a superstar at just 20 years old.

The way Wolvaardt adapted her game to suit the needs of T20 cricket and to slot seamlessly into her new middle-order role are also attributes of a player willing to do anything to succeed.

The spirit that captain Van Niekerk and coach Hilton Moreeng have created within the squad served the team well in the build-up to the T20 World Cup. Largely due to key players suffering injuries at various times, South Africa had not always reaped the desired results, particularly on the Indian tour where the team lost six out of eight matches.

The belief never wavered though and with the injured players reintegrated into the system, the Proteas claimed a 3-0 whitewash over hosts New Zealand just ahead of the World Cup.

Everyone involved in the women’s game in South Africa knows there is plenty of work ahead to fully professionalise the game, which in turn will make the national team stronger.

Cape Cobras coach Ashwell Prince. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

TRANSFORMATION

The fact that this subject requires its own headline should justify its importance within South Africa’s cricket landscape. A once-divided nation was again torn apart when Temba Bavuma was dropped during the England Test series. A quote that was taken out of context from Du Plessis, saying “we don’t see colour” further heightened an already tense situation with Bavuma suddenly finding himself in the eye of a race storm. Nobody benefited from the situation, and Bavuma was arguably the most affected.

However, it once again highlighted the fact that the composition of South Africa’s cricket teams based on race is a factor that cannot be ignored. There are stipulations in place at national and domestic level to serve this purpose, but sometimes injury or lack of form - as in the case with Bavuma - and even suspension (Rabada) creates complex selection issues.

To compound matters, franchise coaches such as the Cape Cobras’ Ashwell Prince has called for the transformation requirements at domestic level to be re-evaluated for he believes it does not serve everyone that was previously disadvantaged equally. Prince has challenged the current rules that stipulates six Black players, of which three must be Black African, must play by only fielding two Black Africans on occasion.

CSA’s commitment to transformation must remain steadfast, but along with their other trials and tribulations, there is an urgent need to discuss the way forward that allows a pathway to the national team that is accessible for all South Africans.

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