CAPE TOWN - Ahead of the New Year’s Test between South Africa and India, I had the temerity to ask new Proteas coach Ottis Gibson if his “honeymoon” was over.
The implication being that Bangladesh, who were swatted away in all formats, and the once-off pink ball farce against Zimbabwe, were mere appetisers for the main course that was still to be served.
Gibson, almost dismayed by my suggestion, snarled in his thick Bajan accent “I didn’t know I was on a honeymoon, but I am sure ‘you guys’ will tell me when it is.”
After the “good hiding” that the Proteas have received in this ODI series from India, I am sure you don’t need anyone to remind you that it is indeed over.
Winning the Test series against India was a significant achievement, but the West Indian’s mandate has been from the outset to bring back the coveted silverware from the World Cup next year in England.
The injuries South Africa encountered to key batsmen during this on-going series is well documented and undoubtedly hampered the Proteas’ chances, but the manner of surrender was still hugely alarming.
Even Gibson admitted he would have liked to see “a bit more fight” from his charges.
A lot has been said about the depth of South African cricket, especially the standard of the domestic circuit that serves the national team. Although Khaya Zondo never quite took advantage of the opportunities that came his way, the performances of Heinrich Klaasen and Lungi Ngidi certainly showed the cupboard is not entirely bare.
My greater concern is the lack of form shown by the remaining senior players. Hashim Amla has looked a shadow of the batsman that has dominated ODI cricket the past decade, with his 71 in the last match in Port Elizabeth being his only contribution during the series.
Amla is the cornerstone of South Africa’s ODI unit and Gibson will be hoping that he returns rejuvenated.
Equally, JP Duminy and David Miller’s inconsistency remains troublesome. The pair have played a sum total of 289 ODI’s and yet there remains a concern of about their ability to contribute under pressure.
South Africa cannot enter a World Cup in 15 months time with question marks hanging over two of their most senior batsmen. Past World Cups have demonstrated the importance of an in-form middle-order, and the time has come for both to start contributing much more regularly.
My other major concern is the form of Imran Tahir. Approaching 39 years old, Tahir is definitely in the twilight of his international career.
Tahir’s age has, however, not mattered before due to him possessing the energy of a teenager. But what is concerning now, is the fact that teams, especially subcontinent teams have worked out a method to counter Tahir.
With his breakthroughs in the middle-order crucial to South Africa’s gameplan, teams have begun to be more patient against Tahir. This has impacted negatively on his strike-rate, almost in the same way he struggled in his Test career. Tahir has always enjoyed batsmen playing positively against him in order for his variations, especially the googly to come into play.
Gibson has a few pertinent questions to ponder over the winter with South Africa’s next ODI series only being much later this year away to Sri Lanka. By then “Vision 2019” needs to be more than just a dream.