India tour: Vicious circle for Proteas

Faf du Plessis (Getty Images)
Faf du Plessis (Getty Images)

Cape Town - It is a reasonably common occurrence ... South Africa struggling to hit the ground running whenever they tour somewhere, particularly to meet more frontline foes, straight out of the local winter.

Sometimes, they will get progressively better as a series develops; in others a poor start only leaves them fatally on the back foot for the duration.

In an ideal world, then, it would really be best for the Proteas, facing an enormous obstacle in October when they open their all-new ICC World Test Championship account against India on their own unique terrain, to shed some cobwebs first against a lesser foe.

But cricket has ever-decreasing room for those ideal worlds in this packed-schedule, multi-formatted day and age, and any thoughts of an earlier mini-series of some kind might only be counter-productive in several senses anyway.

That is because the core of South Africa’s international players who represent the cause in both white and red-ball cricket badly need the benefit - presenting itself immediately, considering their early World Cup crash-out - of several weeks of total competitive inactivity to recharge mentally.

They have come through another intense period of several months competing across the planet, with widely varying levels of success, and fully knowledgeable that another brutal summer awaits in 2019/20.

The Proteas, who will tackle the Indians in three Twenty20 internationals before the altogether more key business of the three Tests in the fairly novel locations of Visakhapatnam, Ranchi and Pune, then return in time to become vital marketing devices and performers in the second edition of the controversial, currently money-chewing Mzansi Super League, tackle England in an all-formats home series, and play further white-ball stuff against both Australia and India.

So despite the risk that they will be a tad undercooked when the hostilities in India get underway, trying to cram in any prior challenge for the senior national team would probably be futile, only adding to the clutter and lessening the likelihood of 2018/19 fatigue elimination for the premier-figure likes of Faf du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada.

Still, Cricket South Africa have boxed pretty clever by at least including a generous sprinkling of strong Indian Test series candidates in their SA ‘A’ squads for a handy mission to that very country from late August.

Those troops will play both a white-ball portion and two four-day unofficial “Tests” against Indian counterparts: the four-day party includes all of Aiden Markram (captain), Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Hamza, Wiaan Mulder, Anrich Nortje and Dane Piedt.

So it is possible that almost half of the fully-fledged Test team playing India not too long afterwards will be made up of players who have had precious reconnaissance opportunities, if you like, a little earlier.

It may only be more established players, then, like Du Plessis (assuming he is not a shock step-down from Tests), Dean Elgar, Rabada, Quinton de Kock and Vernon Philander - the future Test statuses of Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn look uncertain at this point - who will be at special risk of some rustiness when the series gets underway.

On the plus side, Elgar (Surrey) and Bavuma (Northamptonshire) have been batting regularly in England’s County Championship of late, while current first-choice Test spinner Keshav Maharaj is also trying his hand in that landscape for Yorkshire and getting in some solid, fairly productive spells already.

This at least gives a sense that several frontline South African players won’t have had entirely dormant winters, which was a more common hallmark of yesteryear.

Mindful of how awful the last Test series for the Proteas in India was (a 0-3 thumping in 2015/16, featuring some wretchedly low totals on varying levels of dust bowls), it will be essential that their brains trust - again, its own future composition not entirely clear as we speak - ensure the team are somehow able to start the first Test looking as sharp and fresh as possible.

Quickly going 1-0 down as a traditionally gruelling, application-testing Indian series develops is seldom a recipe for profound success by the visiting nation …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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