“Given the manner in which the series has gone, South Africa sorely need some fresh faces and better ideas to keep their “Vision 2019” alive. At the moment they haven’t quite walked the talk”.
“You look at South Africa and the players they can potentially put on the field, and there is no reason why they can’t win the World Cup in 2019”
These were the words of Ottis Gibson, South Africa’s head coach, when he took over the mantle of the team back in September last year. Five months on and he chalked out a seemingly fool-proof plan to bring home the World Cup, something which the Proteas termed “Vision 2019”.
“We have always been a team to focus on the now and when we are getting to a big tournament, that becomes your focus as well. This is the first time, we have taken a small step away from the now and a bigger step into the future. This is the first time that any conversation we have had as a selection panel or coach and captain is to see how we can look at more players. I have never been involved in a vision like that. The now is very important and we play series to win but there is a big focus on how we can get a lot of guys opportunity because a year and a half or two years from now, you want to make sure there’s a group of players that have had time in the middle and time in pressure situations so you don’t just hope your XI is fit all the time”, Faf du Plessis had stated before the ODIs against India.
It meant South Africa were prepared to gulp down some scything criticism even if they lost while ensuring they had the bigger picture – the World Cup of course – in mind. Five matches into the ODIs against India and the results read 4-1 in India’s favour with the sole game the hosts won being a rain-curtailed affair on the Pink day at the Wanderers.
Ideally, losses are in accordance with their “Vision 2019”. But they had to gain some learning from the manner in which they are losing and that does not seem to be happening with South Africa. Quite a lot of their mistakes have been repeated throughout the series like Aiden Markram throwing it away after enterprising starts or quick bowlers not adjusting their lengths as the pitch demands but what has stood out neck and crop above the rest is the farce that their selections have been.
They lost three ODIs on the trot although Faf du Plessis (2 matches), AB de Villiers (3 matches), Quinton de Kock (1 match) being unavailable was a genuine excuse. But how hollow has their opening partnerships and middle-order been in recent times?
Take aside the Superman and a resilient Faf du Plessis and South Africa have little to no consistency in the middle. Yet nothing has been done about it. JP Duminy, for instance, has played 184 ODIs with a batting average of 36.95 and four hundreds – three of them against Zimbabwe and one against the Netherlands.
David Miller has been way too inconsistent and Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock aren’t oozing with confidence either. This brings us down to why the only change in South Africa’s team for the remaining matches of the series was AB de Villiers coming back.
Some exceptional domestic players are keenly waiting on the sidelines but Linda Zondi and the selection panel seem to be intent on trying mediocre, second-rate players instead of rewarding the actual performers.
Someone like Theunis de Bruyn who boasts of a fabulous record across formats has been knocking down the door with an axe but Khaya Zondo seems to have had a path decorated with a bed of roses to welcome him into the South African team. He could barely knock the ball out of the inner circle against the Indian spinners.
JJ Smuts is another all-rounder who has been performing quite well but South Africa seem to be extremely reluctant to drop JP Duminy despite a decade of ordinary performances. Smuts can chip in more than a few overs and is also a viable opening option.
We are just talking about batting at this stage. The bowling has been even more ridiculous with Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Lungi Ngidi all offering similar back of the length stuff. The pace attack has a rather one-dimensional look to it and the Proteas need to rethink their personnel.
The situation screams for a variety in the pace attack and adding a left-arm seamer would be fine but they have none waiting in the queue other than Wayne Parnell who has time again proved to be far too inconsistent. Dane Paterson is another pacer, although right-arm, who can set the pace gun ablaze but going by his T20I performances, he does not seem to have the consistency in line and length to trouble India’s world-class batsmen.
The second string of pacers is really average and Proteas need to think of bringing back Vernon Philander into the setup. He can exploit any seam movement on offer early and can also lend some stability to the attack.
The all-rounders are another category which has been found wanting. ODI cricket these days need specialists and South Africa have far too many bits and pieces options here. Andile Phehlukwayo and Chris Morris haven’t really been up to the mark either with the ball or with the bat and it is bizarre that they chose to leave Dwaine Pretorius out given that he wields the willow better than these two and bowls pretty much stump to stump without being over the top on pace.
Wiaan Mulder is another youngster who impressed Gibson and seems to be the kind of all-rounder South Africa have forever been searching since the retirement of Jacques Kallis. Mulder needs to be groomed and managed well but also needs to stay in and around the setup to accustom himself to the rigours of International cricket. He would, anyway, be a better alternative than Phehlukwayo at the moment although the latter has a steely temperament which Gibson would want to see more of.
Given the manner in which the series has gone, South Africa sorely need some fresh faces and better ideas to keep their “Vision 2019” alive. At the moment they haven’t quite walked the talk.