Proteas blossom

2009-01-30 00:00

RAY WHITE asks if this is the dawn of a new golden age in South African cricket

WHATEVER happened last night in Perth, the Proteas’ tour to Australia has been a greater success than most of us anticipated. Nearly all those who played on the trip have returned home with their reputations enhanced.

This is a state of affairs not common to cricket teams that have toured Australia. Teams and captains have often been broken by the experience. Novices have been exposed as too full of fault-lines. Even veterans accustomed to touring Down Under have discovered that their previous visits were little more than rehearsals for humiliation.

One understands that the loss of so many brilliant players in such a short space of time was always going to be a problem for the Aussies, but the extent of their team’s decline has been a surprise.

The few who remained from the glory days have played with less confidence than when all round them stood greatness. The newcomers have made a mockery of the so-called superiority of the Australian system.

The intensity of state cricket was supposed to produce a stream of ready-made Test cricketers impatient for the chance to display their skills on a larger stage.

It was clearly asking too much of the system to be able to replace at short notice the über-stars of recent years, but at least we expected that the transition would still find the Aussies able to defend their home turf with more resolution than we have seen this summer.

Even outrageous luck with the toss has been of no help to Ponting and his stricken team.

What should be worrying the Aussies is that their replacements have been longer in the tooth than most of the South Africans who have just caned them.

Where are all their young fast-bowlers, precocious batsmen and promising spinners? What has happened to all that talent that has been making its way through the high-flown academies that have been slavishly imitated by other countries?

Have the fallen oaks cast shadows too big for others to grow in their shade? Did complacency creep into Australian cricket in the same way its deadly sinews have strangled the game in the Caribbean?

From the outside it is difficult to tell, but let us enjoy the moment for national pride will not allow the Australians to accept for long a cricket team that cannot hold its own at the top of the world game. They will be back.

None of this means that the Aussies will be a pushover when they tour here later this summer. Both Clarks, one with an “e” and the other without, will be fit again and so might Brett Lee. Phil Jacques will return to reinforce the batting at the top of the order and presumably Andrew Symonds will be forgiven again for another mindless indiscretion.

These five will make a big difference, but only Michael Clarke is under 30. Most of this team will soon be gone. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that tough times await the wearers of the baggy green.

No such worries exist for South Africa cricket unless one starts fretting now about the retirement of Jacques Kallis, but with his technique he should be able to play as a batsman for another four years. It is his bowling, however, that has given a precious balance to the team.

Kallis’s bowling has developed a maturity and cunning in recent years, but it is too much to expect many more overs from him.

The South African batting has an embarrassment of riches. It is by no means certain that Ashwell Prince, one of the stars of the tour to England, will regain his place in the team. His inclusion would mean a reshuffling of the batting order, which apparently would not be to anyone’s satisfaction, least of all Kallis, who would be forced to bat at three.

Given the amount of bowling Kallis has been doing, this is not an unreasonable attitude.

I would like to see Prince in the team, but if he cannot be accommodated other than in the place of Duminy, it is best that he remains outside it as a world-class reserve.

The good news is that we could have seven batsmen of Test class available for at least another four years and that there are any number of gifted young batsmen who have recently emerged from our schools.

Young talent often fails to bloom, but it is some years since so many promising cricketers have arrived on the scene all at once. Wrist-spinners, once neglected, abound in the schools.

One does not wish to place the mockers on a 17-year-old boy, but I have been watching the progress of a lefthander up here in Johannesburg.

He is quite simply the most prolific and best schoolboy batsman I have seen since Kallis himself. For his school first XI alone he has scored 13 hundreds and his final year has only just begun.

If he does not go on to play for the Proteas something will have gone amiss.

South African cricket has a shortage of fast bowlers below the Test team, but the best of these characters usually spring up later in the most unexpected of places.

Given that these peculiar sources do not dry up, it could be that, unlike the Aussies, a new golden age beckons South African cricket. Let us hope that this time the politicians let it happen.

• Ray White is a former UCB president.

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