The Proteas are Suffering
Not since South Africa's re-integration has there been a time as bleak as the current state of Proteas cricket. Beaten 1-0 by Pakistan in Karachi, following 2 very poor batting performances, Quinton De-Kock and his men are nearly dead and buried. Lists of reasons as to why this situation has materialised are endless but nonetheless the situation is pretty dire.
When you think of the great or even good South Africa sides you think of superb batsmen, a team who even if you remove the top 3 cheaply you know will score 300 as a minimum; not anymore. South Africa currently only have 2 batsmen who average 40 or above in test cricket in their top 6 (Faf and Elgar both of whom are nearing the end of their test careers and will most likely see that average drop) and the talismanic Quinton De-Kock is being slowly punted up the order as Boucher and co seemingly don’t trust the likes of Bavuma to hold on in there, but Quinton seems to have had all his confidence squeezed out like a balloon. the current batting lineup is a million miles off where it use to be. Long gone are the days of Smith, Kallis, Amla, De Villiers, Kirsten and all the other greats. But surely it can't be that bad?
The pool of talent at the Proteas’ disposal is exciting but when asked to make the step up from first class cricket to test cricket they are somewhat underwhelming. Aiden Markram looks a shadow of his old self who set the cricketing world alight, Van Der Dussen is ok but he is certainly no world beater and Zubayr Hamza got into a complete tangle when he batted against England. Peter Malan looked so composed for his debut 84 but has since lost his spot to the maverick Markram. Temba Bavuma is a seriously interesting cricketer who, when in full flow, looks magnificent but is so rarely at his best that his spot in the side is coming under increasing scrutiny. On Bavuma why on earth he is batting at 6 and often in turn with the tail is beyond me, Temba clearly doesn’t like it, 5 is too high for De Kock to bat and still be his most destructive best with the bat and keep so why not switch them?!
When Mark Boucher was appointed head coach and Smith director of cricket things seemed positive for the Proteas and after a good victory over England everything seemed to be in a good place. Since then it has been, arguably, predominantly downhill. Boucher seems far from the right man for the head coach role and his selection has been very questionable. Why make De Kock captain and keep and bat at 5 when he averages 40+ at 7. Why change around the batting line up so often and never allow players to settle and adjust? South Africa (as with every great cricketing side) got quite lucky, in that around 15 years ago they had a number of truly world class players appear and come together at the same time but nowadays it just hasn’t happened.
Off course the retirement of possibly one of the greatest sides of the modern era has hurt South African cricket but the mentality shift that has occurred in the South African game is quite shocking. Before the idea was that to beat or even compete with South Africa was a serious achievement but nowadays they’re ever so slowly sliding to the bottom of the pile. The Proteas mentality now is not one of aggression, fight fire with fire, back our players through thick and thin and to get in the test side you have to be a world beater. Instead it is seemingly one that goes into a game already defeated. Even when England toured last winter and were chasing a mammoth total on the 5th day England didn’t feel out of the game until they were 7 down because South Africa just didn’t have that same killer instinct as they did before. Rabada seems to be the only one who truly embodies the fighting spirit of generations gone by and seems to be the only one who relishes the battle. Against Kusal Perera (albeit in one of the greatest innings of all time) they just couldn’t stop him. South Africa is becoming a mentally weak side and it’s a sad sight for world cricket.
Then of course there’s the situation of Cricket South Africa itself. This is a topic I am not particularly well versed in or know much about but even a neutral with no knowledge of the game could take one look and realise how much of a shambles it all is. I implore you to go and research the issues taking place as they’re not only extremely interesting but you get a clear view of the situation. On top of this South Africas history of racism and the impact it has on cricket are ever present but as i said in my last post as a white British Male i do not believe this to be my place to comment on these issues.
Some England fans may be reading this with a sense of deja vu; a truly great side retiring without some true further planning and the whole system going into meltdown. Yeah remind you of anyone yet? But the added issues that face South African cricket are offering a serious threat to one of the game's great nations (in modern times). Everything seems to be heading downhill for South Africa.
Inevitably there has to be some positives to come out of this; right? Yes there are. Kolpak deals are finally ended which will give a real boost to the national side and i think we can all agree when we say we want to see Simon Harmer ragging it off the square in Mumbai, but it will be hard for the Essex tweaker to displace Maharaj who is arguably the greatest South African spinner ever. Whilst he may be in a slump of sorts De-Kock is a genuinely world class cricketer and a pure match winner and one of the best talents of his generation. The South African domestic scene is producing some cricketers who look very well accomplished and this should only grow in the coming years.
The white ball side of South Africas game is looking very strong especially the 50 over format in which the likes of Van Der Dussen, De Kock, Miller, Ngidi, Shamsi and Phehlukwayoall look very accomplished. Beating Australia and being the better team y a long way against England in their most recent 50 over outings offer encouraging signs. Despite losing 3-0 vs England in the recent T20i series there was reason to be positive and as ever with the world cup they have an outside chance.
Pace bowling is something the Proteas can really pride themselves on. In Kagiso Rabada they have one of the true fast bowling greats of the modern era, Lungi Ngidi is adapting well to test cricket and Anrich Nortje is growing more and more with each game he plays and is seriously quick. George Linde and Wiaan Mulde look to have the makings of a good numbers 7 and 8 who are both handy with ball and bat (something that improves a side 10 fold) and Dean Elgar is still going along at a consistent rate (even if his career is nearing a close). Much like England South Africa have too many match winners with the ball to be kept down for long.
South African cricket is in a state of transition it seems to believe it cannot afford to be in. An inability to relinquish themselves of the romanticism of the past is becoming ever more damaging and heaps far too much pressure on the young players coming through. The side's stars are failing to deliver and the young guns have too much to do. In the bowling department they have some truly great players and will only benefit from the end of Kolpaks. However the political situation inside the South African cricket board shows no signs of resolving itself soon and a grey cloud is starting to build and loom over the name of South African cricket.
The Proteas are hurting, but once you hit rock bottom the only way is up.