When South Africa embarked on their tour of England three months back, expectations were sky high. They were the no.1 ODI side, had beaten Australia and New Zealand in away Test matches and brushed aside a clueless Sri Lankan side at home. Besides, they had never lost a Test series in England since 1998.
But now as they return, they have lost the ODIs, T20s and Tests aside from another embarrassing group stage exit from the Champions Trophy. That this tour was a disaster is an understatement in itself. They were deplorable, beagle brained and sullen. There was little oomph or energy behind their performances and very very few of them would walk away from the series with their heads held high. The rest have drooping shoulders, tired backs and lingering questions running through their head.
Questions. South Africa have a lot of questions to answer before they invite India and Australia over next year. The Bangladesh series will be one of experimentation for this South African side. They have several areas of concern and overcoming these would take patience and readiness to experiment.
Here we compile a list of possible questions this Proteas side needs to answer in the upcoming months:
1. The head coach saga
Russell Domingo has most likely completed his last game as South Africa’s head coach. There are talks of England bowling coach, Ottis Gibson, switching allegiance to the South African dressing room, as head coach. If that happens, South Africa will have a foreign coach, yet someone who understands the nuances of the nature of cricket in the country. That said, de Villiers had mentioned that his decision to continue in Tests would depend on the decision surrounding the head coach. He had strongly backed Domingo and it remains to be seen whether he returns to the Test team of a different head coach is named.
2. The de Villiers conundrum
South Africa have begged enough for de Villiers to return to the fold in Test cricket. The swashbuckling cricketer is on a self-enforced break in Test cricket but if rumours are to be believed, the flamboyant cricketer has already played his last Test. Faf du Plessis even suggested that South Africa need to move on from de Villiers after the fourth and final Test at Old Trafford.
Definitely, South Africa cannot hang back and wait for the best batsman in the country to return. If he is unsure of his future in the longer format, it is best the Proteas look for alternatives and adjust to life after de Villiers as quickly as possible.
3. The no.4 spot
With de Villiers gone and du Plessis refusing to move up to no.4, the spot has come under heavy scrutiny in the Tests series in England. Three batsmen – JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma – occupied the no.4 position in the Test series but none of them really stamped down their presence.
Duminy might well have played the last Test of his career after he was sent back mid-way through the series and de Kock was moved up to 4 on an experimental basis. The trial was a success the first time around, but the keeper failed to adjust his tempo in the new position and Bavuma was called up for the job in the final Test.
Technically, South Africa’s most stable batsman, Temba Bavuma looks the ideal candidate to slot in at 4 on a permanent basis. But he needs to be given time in the role.
4. Bowling attack
Perhaps, bowling was the lone bright spot for the South Africans on this tour. Morne Morkel returned to the fold and bowled beautifully, beating the bat 90 times (according to cricViz) in the series. But Vernon Philander has injury question marks to answer and Kagiso Rabada was wayward.
Keshav Maharaj is another huge plus for South Africa from the series. The left-arm spinner was at his very best, bamboozling batsmen with his flight and consistency. His biggest strength is his readiness to tease the batsmen in flight, something modern day spinners fail to do.
Duanne Olivier showed enough to retain his berth for the next Test series at least while Chris Morris will be under the scanner although he did bowl brilliantly in bursts.
5. Identifying Elgar’s partner and back up batsman
Heino Kuhn and Theunis de Bruyn had forgettable tours and it would be a surprise if the former retains his spot for the Bangladesh series. de Bruyn is young and could continue as the backup batsman but he has technical corrections to be done which might force the selectors to look elsewhere.
Aiden Markram is favourite to walk in as Elgar’s partner in the next Test. The 22-year old has made all the right noise in domestic cricket and gelled well with the squad during the England tour.
Theunis de Bruyn, despite his failures, is favorite to retain his spot as a backup batsman. But with South Africa A playing India A in four day Tests, some other names like Omphile Ramela, Rudi Second (also a keeper) and Khaya Zondo could make a case.