Cape Town – While its gravitas remains limited, it is in embattled South Africa’s interests that the T20 World Cup in Australia from mid-October assumes priority status for them in the next few months.
That will be less the case for certain other frontline nations … but the Proteas’ situation is a little more unique, if you like, given their lengthy hoodoo when it comes to major ICC tournament trophies and the burning desire to remedy it.
They haven’t won one – whether World Cup-proper, Champions Trophy or the T20 version – since as far back as the inaugural “ICC KnockOut” (effectively the birth of the Champions Trophy) in Bangladesh in 1998.
Also the arena that brings likeliest, healthy gate receipts to cash-challenged Cricket South Africa, a strong focus on T20 for the next few weeks – and months -- will suit the bean-counters just fine.
Plunged deeper into the mire from a Test point of view after the 1-3 home series walloping from England – duly completed on day four of the final encounter at the Wanderers on Monday – the Proteas are a humdrum fifth on the ICC rankings and frankly “nowhere” on the dubious new Test Championship table, either.
Their rank failure at the 50-over World Cup in England last year also means that they are curtailed to fourth at present in one-day international terms.
That is the same spot they occupy on the T20 ladder (for the relatively little that is worth from bilateral series in the format) but it does seem to be the arena with best scope – even if some traditionalists will sigh – for the Proteas to excel as things stand from a personnel point of view.
They say that “minnow” countries are always brought closer to competitiveness the shorter the format in international cricket: it may now apply to a South African cause increasingly losing general touch, sadly, with the big three cricket-economic nations of India, England and Australia.
The Proteas selectors have named a very debatable, notably experimental-looking squad for the next assignment, a three-match ODI series against the cock-a-hoop English beginning at Newlands on Tuesday next week.
That portion of the tour has the potential to bring further angst for the home camp against the defending World Cup champions, even if the visitors’ own group will not be at fullest strength.
Both outfits are resting certain key players, but that hallmark significantly changes when they do battle shortly afterwards (starting on February 12 in East London) in an again three-match T20 portion, with that global jamboree Down Under quite firmly in mind.
England, for example, will reinfuse then their premier bums-on-seats white-ball players like Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, while the Proteas will call someone like Kagiso Rabada out of a current, brief break period.
Labouring to an unusual extent at the crease in Tests and with his continued leadership there under a cloud, seasoned batsman Faf du Plessis has been left out of the ODI mix but also seems massively likely to come back into the picture for the T20s – he still has extremely healthy recent stats there, and a career tally of 1,363 runs at an average of almost 36.
While a glaring issue appears to linger over the long tail South Africa will sport in ODIs, it is usually less of an impediment in T20 cricket, and they have enough explosive individuals – including the suggestion that one AB de Villiers may return for the T20 World Cup and presumably a bit before it – to be a threat to most countries in the shortest brand.
When England last had a full tour of our shores in 2015/16, and also won the first-up Test series, the Proteas did well to bounce back subsequently and win both the ODI and T20 combat soon afterwards.
Doing the white-ball double again this time may be a little optimistic, but it would be handier, if it is to be at least one of them, for South Africa to claim the T20 honours considering what lies ahead in bigger-picture terms.
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