JOHANNESBURG – There’s been so much talk about the ‘bigger picture’, i.e. the 2019 World Cup, that you wouldn’t blame South Africa’s cricketers if their eyes had shifted from the ‘here and now’ to the future 18 months hence.
“Experimentation” and “rotation” have been the watchwords from the coaches, the selectors and even the injured captain Faf du Plessis to such an extent that it seems the current One-Day series with India has been forgotten.
Not so, insisted batting coach Dale Benkenstein in the aftermath of Sunday’s capitulation in Centurion, when the Proteas were spun out for their lowest ODI total on home soil.
“(The focus on the World Cup) is from a management point of view, when these guys get the green-and-gold on they want to win, and everyone feels (Sunday) was not a great day for SA cricket and not a great day for these guys,” said Benkenstein.
‘Vision 2019’ has become selection convener Linda Zondi’s phrase du jour.
In one sense enduring some pain now, to ensure a much-needed triumph in England next year, is no bad thing.
There is still time on Zondi and coach Ottis Gibson’s side for precision to be created.
Gibson has on a number of occasions pointed out that he sees no value in being the No 1-ranked team in ODIs because that is not the measure for teams in that format – winning and performing well in ICC tournaments is what counts.
That being the case, there is the danger that the present is ignored, and defeat after defeat doesn’t help breed confidence, something all high-level professional sportsmen thrive on.
“Individually (the players) all want to perform and be in a winning team,” said Benkenstein.
“As much as we are looking at the bigger picture as management, when these guys walk out and play they want to win ... there is no distraction at all, they are feeling (the disappointment), that’s for sure.”
Mentally, knowing that losing now doesn’t matter as much is not a good space for players to be in, and it is something they will have to dismiss from their minds – for there is enough to challenge them in the shape of a very talented and determined Indian side.
Stand-in captain Aiden Markram said he could tell from the atmosphere in the dressing room on Sunday that the players were very upset about their performance, and he was looking forward to their response in the third ODI at Newlands on Wednesday (1pm start).
That riposte will be keenly watched by all, not least Gibson and Zondi, whose ‘Vision 2019’ rests on how well the players can get themselves right in 2018.
Fail to do so, and some major adjustments may need to be made.
For now, Benkenstein believes that the country’s best players are in the squad.
“We see this as a great opportunity to get some game time into our next best players, to look at them under pressure.
“The results have not been great, but a lot of good can come out of this.
“The positive thing is that we are not even at 50 percent of our capabilities with bat and ball. We want to give opportunities in this series, and in my mind, two games is not an opportunity.
“We want to give guys the opportunity to come back. With AB and Faf out, I believe this is the best group we’ve got, and it’s a matter of the guys being as good as they can be... we have not been anywhere near that in the first two games,” Benkenstein added.