The Proteas need to get 2018 off to a good start to set the year off on a good tone. Photo: Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix

Whether they like it or not, South Africa’s cricketers are now under even more pressure to stand up and be counted at the start of 2018.

More than ever, Faf du Plessis and his men hold the torch for a sporting body that has just realised that the foundations of its expansive new project were in fact sitting on promotional quicksand.

Now that the T20 Global League has been deferred, the object of affection this summer - when it belatedly starts in January - will be the fortunes of the senior cricket side.

The T20 Global League was supposed to usher in a new era of independence, financial clout to keep stars and upstarts comfortable on home turf.

Spectacularly, that jenga puzzle of hype and hope collapsed almost immediately after Haroon Lorgat had been timbered.

We haven’t heard the last of it, of course, but the only way to fill the vacuum now is through cricket that clicks with such clarity as to demand collective acclaim.

After all, in times of uncertainty, we are taught to resort to type.

It is apparent that we don’t know how to organise an international standard T20 just yet.

And so, we must dala what we know. Administrators must give elaborate excuses, the public must wonder, and the media must investigate.

The players, then, simply have to put bat and ball together.

The Proteas, and their latest designs on the dream of a World Cup and five-day domination, must take centre stage now. The Zimbabwe four-day experiment under lights is a novelty, and we mustn’t treat it as anything more. It will be forgotten as soon as it’s over, and the main course that is India settles in at Newlands.

That and the late summer fruit that will be Australia now become even more imperative, because it will clarify the health of South African cricket.

On and off the field, cricket in South Africa must show its hand. The Proteas have infinitely more to do than the man on the street, or those who slink into boardrooms, for that matter.

It appears that the suits have already been quite busy this year, which is why it is time for the Proteas to take their destiny into their own hands. They are under a new coach, their leadership logistics have been settled, and they have a very clear timeline in which to achieve a mission that will be a final hurrah for the core of the squad.

That alone ought to galvanise them even more going forward. Bangladesh were billed as tigers, but they have appeared to be nothing more than sheep donning striped masks. Zimbabwe should also be put to slaughter, before the actual contests roll in.

That is when the Proteas need to put their best foot forward, if only to show a mocking cricket world that the playing side of things is still a force to be reckoned with. The pressure on them has been ratcheted up, through no fault of their own, but it is they who must quell concerns for the future and financial health of South African cricket.

Should they fail, it promises to be an even bleaker time for all concerned, and the very sponsors and broadcasters that turned their nose up at the initial T20 Global League offering, will have even more reason to baulk and insist that the price on the package doesn’t represent market value.

Having been sold down the river, it is time for the players to sell themselves, and restore some severely dented national pride.

Sunday Independent

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