Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Everyone is wiser for it, and you must wonder where South Africa’s cricket stocks would be sitting at if that most exact of sciences could be applied right now.
This week’s news that AB de Villiers was, in fact, calling time on his career a year away from the 2019 World Cup would have come as a surprise to many South African households, and certainly to one abode in the United Kingdom.
When Rilee Rossouw left these shores, financial security was one of the factors suggested for his decision to turn his back on South African cricket. The other reason was an uncertainty over his place in the Proteas middle-order, given the fact that two of those slots were taken by skipper Faf du Plessis and one Mr De Villiers.
Despite former coach Russell Domingo backing him hugely, and suggesting that he wanted to build much of the future around him, Rossouw still hopped the pond. Perhaps, then, he might still have packed his bags and sought pounds over Protea success. As the cricket world has learnt, national honour is not for everyone these days.
But you do have to wonder if he would have stuck around if, back in January 2017, he knew that De Villiers would retire the number 17 jumper just a year away from the World Cup. In the same vein, you must ask if Kyle Abbott would have walked away if he knew that Morné Morkel would be sitting on the sidelines with his boy, by the time the sun shines in the UK next year. Hindsight is also a wonderfully useless thing, of course, because the die has been cast now, contracts signed and individuals have moved on. The South African team has moved on, and they will also move on from the shock of De Villiers’ sudden retirement. The game always goes on.
But it is rather telling that since their last World Cup match, back in March 2015, South Africa have lost the captain from that night, a key bowler in that tournament, a free-scoring left-hander and a lanky fast bowler who has got better and better with age. They also have another fast bowler whose fitness now makes more headlines than his considerable skill.
Truly, the 2015 World Cup took a heavy toll on that dressing-room. For all the resolve to go again in 2019, many have not been able to gather themselves to do it all again. There are many, compelling reasons for that, and some of those will still fully reveal themselves with time. They always do.
For now, however, South Africa’s winter takes on even more significance now, because they have to find somebody to be the dynamo in the batting card. And then give that person the necessary time in the middle, to grow into the giant shoes left vacant.
De Villiers was peerless in the role, and Rossouw was showing great promise as his apprentice a few years ago. Maybe David Miller will rediscover his mojo back in Durban. Perhaps Theunis de Bruyn’s return to the Titans will galvanise him. Or another young buck will take the next 12 months by storm, and show Ottis Gibson that the fire which singes out an old Protea flower also brings forth a new bloom.
Whatever happens, the Proteas have a year to sort themselves out.
They have often gone into World Cups feeling as if everything is in place; roles defined, plans laid out, and then come up short. Maybe this topsy-turvy approach might see them stumble upon the pot of gold they so desperately covet.
And if they manage to do that, those who jumped off the train before the final destination might again be gently tapped on the shoulder by that wonderfully useless old friend, Mr Hindsight.
A precious penny for their thoughts, then.