Proteas gear up for much-needed ODI action against the Netherlands
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Cape Town – The Proteas have played three One-Day International series since the Covid-19 lockdown which saw them abandon their tour of India last March.
During this period they have yet to find themselves on the winning side, leaving Mark Boucher's team in a perilous ninth position after nine concluded matches. Only New Zealand, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands are below the Proteas on the table.
All except Zimbabwe, who have played an equal amount of matches as the Proteas, have though only played three games, placing South Africa under even more pressure in their bid to qualify automatically for the 2023 World Cup in India.
The Proteas have an opportunity to improve on their standing this week when they host the last-placed Netherlands in three ODI's at Centurion for the first time on South African soil.
It won't, however, be a straight foward task with the Proteas resting six regulars, including captain Temba Bavuma, with Keshav Maharaj once again stepping in to fill the breach like he did so successfully during the T20I series in Sri Lanka.
"Our progress has been a bit slow," Maharaj admitted in a virtual press conference on Tuesday. "There is a plan to everything and come 2023 we will probably be the polished article that we want to be. There are a few combinations that we have been trying, which is possibly why some of the results have gone our way. But it is all about building towards the bigger picture at the end of the day.
"The more we play, the more we gel as a unit, and the better we will get. I think the more cricket we can play building up towards the World Cup from a tactical point of view allows us to see what works. This series really is important. There are WSL points at stake and we need to qualify for the World Cup. We not going to take this series lightly."
The three matches against the Dutch is a certainly an opportunity for a couple of new faces such Lions hot-shot Ryan Rickleton and a few not-so-new faces like Zubayr Hamza, Sisanda Magala, Khaya Zondo and former Kolpak Wayne Parnell to leave a lasting impression.
Rickleton, 25, has been in superb form in the Four-Day Domestic series and will be keen to continue his good run and to show that he is indeed ready to take the next step up.
Zondo, meanwhile, will be experiencing a whirlwind of emotions as he returns to the Proteas set-up for the first time since the ill-fated tour to India in 2015 when he was part of the original squad but overlooked for the final ODI when Dean Elgar was flown over as an emergency replacement for the injured JP Duminy.
Zondo's non-selection was a major topic of discussion at the recent Social Justice and Nation Building hearings with his exclusion linked to possible racism on the part of selectors.
The KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins batter would like to show that he has grown since those dark days with his recent double-hundred against Western Province at Newlands further proof his quality and ability.
Parnell's inclusion will also be closely monitored after spending four years in the international wilderness with the all-rounder now one of the more experienced members of the Proteas squad.
"We've had our first practice session and it was nice to gauge where the guys are at. A lot of the guys have played four-day cricket so in terms of loads and facing balls we know where they are at," Maharaj said.
"Rubbing shoulders with Parney again after a long time has been nice. He is in a good space with his cricket. He has been taking on plenty of responsibility at Western Province which has been good. But i think not having the other regulars around it will give a nice opportunity for the youngsters and to see our depth and how they fit into international cricket and to ser the depth in our systems right now."
Proteas squad for the Netherlands series
Keshav Maharaj (c), Reeza Hendricks, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Dwaine Pretorious, Andile Phehlukwayo, Lizaad Williams, Zubayr Hamza, Daryn Dupavillon, Sisanda Magala, Janneman Malan, Wayne Parnell, Ryan Rickelton, Tabraiz Shamsi, Kyle Verreyne and Khaya Zondo