The Year in Review, 2023: More World Cup pain but positive mood around Proteas

Quinton de Kock scored four centuries at the World Cup to end his Proteas ODI career in fine style

Quinton de Kock scored four centuries at the World Cup to end his Proteas ODI career in fine style. Photo: Deepak Malik/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Published Dec 31, 2023


The Proteas Men’s team will once again be remembered in 2023 for their failure to advance from an ICC World Cup semi-final.

This is the fifth time it has occurred in the team’s history, dating back to the first appearance in 1992.

Viewed in isolation, it will be in line with all the other previous disappointments. But the greater context is that so much transpired over the past 12 months.

The Proteas began the year with their backs firmly to the wall. After 12 years of success Down Under, Dean Elgar’s side surrendered their proud record in Australia in the first two Tests, and ultimately only saved the embarrassment of suffering a 3-0 clean sweep due to the New Year Test in Sydney being heavily affected by weather.

It was a case of abject disappointment for captain Temba Bavuma after the Proteas lost the World Cup semi-final against Australia. | BackpagePix

There was no chance for redemption either, after the ODI series had earlier been forfeited due to the launch of the new Betway SA20 competition back home after Cricket SA had promised the Indian-owned franchises that all the South African-contracted players would be available for the start on January 10 at Newlands.

This boardroom decision placed the Proteas’ chances of qualifying automatically for the ICC World Cup in India later in the year in severe jeopardy, with the prospect of having to secure progression via the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe a genuine possibility.

A change was desperately needed, and Cricket SA responded with the decision to split the coaching duties of the Proteas’ Men’s team between red-ball and white-ball responsibilities for the first time.

The experienced Shukri Conrad was named Test coach, and former Proteas fitness coach Rob Walter was summoned home from seven years in New Zealand to take over the ODI and T20I teams.

There was also a shake-up in the on-field leadership, with Temba Bavuma surrendering the T20I captaincy to Aiden Markram, but taking over the Test armband from Elgar to add to his ODI responsibilities.

The first international assignment for the home summer was a critical three-match ODI series against world champions England. There were 30 all-important World Cup Super League points on offer.

Walter was unable to oversee the Proteas for this series due to him needing to close off commitments in New Zealand, and Conrad was tasked with guiding the team.

Conrad, 56 – a coach that’s been around the block and back again, and who has particularly strong opinions on the game – set about a cleansing within the Proteas dressing-room, starting with skipper Bavuma.

The new coach and captain had some forthright conversations on the Mangaung Oval outfield in Bloemfontein prior to the start of the series against the English.

The change in fortunes was almost immediate for both the Proteas and the much-maligned Bavuma.

Rassie van der Dussen’s century, and a superb comeback from the bowlers set up the victory in the opening ODI before Bavuma’s sparkling century in the second match spearheaded the Proteas’ successful 347-run chase that sealed the series and 20 valuable log points.

Although the final match was lost, the Proteas had given themselves a lifeline to qualify directly for the World Cup, which they duly did by dispatching the Netherlands in two ODIs to conclude the home summer.

Between the England and Dutch series, the West Indies arrived in South Africa for an all-format tour.

With no World Cup Super League points on offer, Walter experimented with a host of young players to attest the depth of South African cricket during his first two series in charge of the national team. The T20I series was lost and the ODI series shared.

Conrad, meanwhile, was still enjoying his honeymoon period, with the Proteas despatching the Windies 2-0 in the Test series, and even greater in the context of South African cricket, Bavuma was in sparkling form, with the skipper striking a magnificent 172 in the final Test at the Wanderers.

The Proteas then found themselves collectively in hibernation for almost six months during the winter, with players scattered all around the world playing in various T20 franchise leagues.

They eventually gathered towards the end of August to face Australia in three T20Is and five ODIs in preparation for the upcoming World Cup in India.

Once again Walter opted for the youthful talent to emerge from the hugely-successful maiden SA20 season, but the youngsters quickly discovered the step to international cricket was a steep learning curve, with the Aussies completing a 3-0 clean sweep.

The ODIs seemed to follow a similar path, with the tourists steaming into a 2-0 lead before another Bavuma century sparked a fightback that saw the Proteas complete the comeback 3-2.

The Proteas could now approach the World Cup in India with renewed confidence. It immediately showed, with the Proteas amassing a record 428/5, which included centuries from Quinton de Kock, Rassie van der Dussen and a 49-ball effort from Aiden Markram to blow Sri Lanka away.

The Aussies were crushed by 134 runs in the next match, with De Kock striking a second consecutive World Cup century. The star Proteas wicket-keeper batter had announced that he was set to retire from ODI cricket after the World Cup, and he was determined to depart in fine style.

Unfortunately, the Proteas’ Jekyll and Hyde personality came to the fore again, with a shock defeat to the Netherlands ensuing.

It was, however, merely a single pothole on the long World Cup road, with the Proteas regaining their form with magical batting displays against defending champions England and Bangladesh in Mumbai before closing out a tense one-wicket run-chase against Pakistan in Chennai to clear the path for semi-final qualification.

Victory over New Zealand’s Black Caps – with De Kock striking his fourth century and Van der Dussen his second – in the next match booked the Proteas’ playoff spot with still two round-robin games remaining.

The dead-rubber contest against hosts India was disappointing at a sold-out Eden Gardens, but the team recovered to close out the league stage with a win over World Cup upstarts Afghanistan.

The major concern heading into the Kolkata semi-final against the arch-enemy Australia was captain Bavuma’s fitness and form. The skipper had been short of runs throughout the tournament, and was now also suffering from a hamstring strain sustained against the Afghans.

Despite immense public pressure from back home for Bavuma to sit out the semi-final, the skipper – who admitted he wasn’t fully fit – took his place in the Eden Gardens cauldron.

Under gloomy overcast conditions, Bavuma won the toss and elected to bat. Before the conclusion of the first over, the right-hander was back in the dressing-room for a duck and by the 12th over, the Proteas were 24/4.

Game. Set. Match.

David Miller delayed the inevitable with a courageous century under severe pressure to take South Africa past 200, but although the bowlers – especially the energetic Gerald Coetzee and spinners Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj – delivered a valiant effort, there were just too few runs and the World Cup dream was once again distinguished.

Bavuma came in for heavy criticism once again after the semi-final defeat, and is currently missing the white-ball leg of the Indian inbound tour to mentally prepare for the Test series.

With another opportunity at major ICC tournament redemption at next year’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and United States, Proteas white-ball coach Walter has placed a great emphasis on the upcoming SA20 season.

The brainchild of former Proteas captain Graeme Smith was an unparalleled success in its first season, with a high quality of cricket on display, combined with in-stadium entertainment that South Africans had not experienced before.

The masses certainly poured through the turnstiles at all six venues, and there was even a fairytale ending, with the unheralded Sunrisers Eastern Cape winning the inaugural title.

So, despite the disappointment of yet another Proteas Men’s World Cup failure, the mood is changing within South African cricket to a much more positive one.


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