SA' male cricketers are less than a year away from a World Cup. There is a sense of 2019 being more pertinent than ever given the shelf life of several key men - and, of course, given what happened at the last one. The Proteas know they still have work to do, if they want to take it deep into the World Cup. They have kept one of the most vanilla Australian outfits seen in decades interested, when they should have been ruthlessly dismissing them 3-0.That is the ruthless streak still missing from the Proteas’ arsenal.
Their pace trio apart, the compromised Aussies of 2018 are distinctly average. South Africa ought to be driving the dagger inserted last summer a bit deeper, but they have made a marsh out of a puddle.
A nation can only hope that this is not a portent of what is to come next June and July. At that time of year, simplicity will be key in Blighty. The playing surfaces will offer something to all bowlers, and the right attack can go a long way towards winning the whole thing.
But you still have to bat accordingly. There are lessons to be gleaned from previous World Cup missions, where a reckless approach led to disaster. The Proteas cricketing class of 2007 admitted that their commitment to ‘brave cricket’ had actually been a misguided one. They had strayed down a path whose destination they were not quite sure of, and they were picked off by the street-smart object of their cricketing obsession; Australia.
They were embarrassed, even, and forced to go back to the style that they were more familiar with. As they say, old habits die hard.
The modern trend is to hit the accelerator and keep the foot on it. However, Faf du Plessis and Co may find more joy in being a little circumspect. The No7 position remains an issue, with Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Chris Morris vying for it. But there is another name that deserves a chance. He is perhaps a more complete bowler than the other three and his batting is a lot more consistent. He also has a score to settle from 2015, when he was an innocent bystander to political games that went way above his head.
Vernon Philander is that man. There is still time to give him a crack at filling a position that will be pivotal, because it provides balance. Get that slot wrong, and brave cricket turns into grave cricket.
Now, let us be frank. If he is good enough to be acknowledged as one of the very best Test bowlers around, there is no reason why he can’t transfer those skills to a swinging white-ball, in early UK summer.
Going with four, out and out bowlers is definitely ballsy. But the collection of Messrs Rabada, Steyn, Ngidi and Tahir are the envy of many a nation. Chuck Vern Philander’s unerring seam into that mix, if you dare. Not half bad, is it?
The Proteas could do a lot worse than at least trial that combination against Pakistan, who would test all departments. This is the last chance saloon for the established core in the Proteas. Most of them won't make it to 2021, never mind the 2023 World Cup. With that in mind, they might as well give themselves their best possible chance of success.
It is now, or never.
And that is no cliché.