Lessons for Proteas in England's 2015 cleanout

Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla (Getty Images)
Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Right now, South Africa's quest to turn around their one-day international cricket for a meaningful assault on the next World Cup in India looks a formidable one.

Fresh - if that is the right word - off their worst showing in eight CWCs stretching back to 1992, the Proteas require some earnest, thorough soul-searching as they begin a new four-year cycle leading to the 2023 event.

They just seemed so frighteningly far off the pace (in relation to the numerous better contenders) at the English/Welsh-staged World Cup recently: strategically, in levels of zest, statistically as individuals ... and of course in pure results terms as a unit, too.

It was all reflected in their surprisingly early exit, with a record of three victories from nine matches (two after the horse had bolted) and an unflattering win percentage of 33.33.

In short, they were the broad cricketing superpower to flop the most conspicuously.

Yet their plight has so much in common with that of England - crowned champions for the first time a week and a half ago - after the prior, 2015 tournament in Australia/New Zealand that it should be branded cause for hope, if they can bring themselves to take an optimistic view.

For the English side that similarly left CWC 2015 prematurely, tails firmly between legs, reinvented itself gradually but also quite dramatically to get into shape in every key respect for their successful snaring of the 2019 spoils at Lord's two Sundays ago.

The England team of 2015 had ended that tournament with exactly the same lowly 33.33 percent win success rate as Faf du Plessis and company at the latest one, even if the format was different - two pools, ahead of quarter-finals for four teams from each - four years ago, and they won just two of six matches before heading home.

England were beaten into the knockouts by all of New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh from Pool A, and widely castigated, especially by their unforgiving own media, for looking ponderous and behind the times in the 50-overs arena.

The South African outfit of the just-completed World Cup have been savaged in a not dissimilar way, to the point that Herschelle Gibbs, a past batting icon for them in the white-ball arena, damningly lamented a few days ago in CWC summary: "The body language ... a lot of people who were observing felt (the Proteas) weren't trying hard enough ... it was disappointing to see how they went about things."

New ideas, new blood ... it seemed so clearly what England had needed in the immediate aftermath of CWC 2015, and their bosses/planners duly responded in a very tangible manner.

In a nutshell, a handful of much-capped individuals either stepped down from their ODI plans voluntarily or were "pushed": no further ODIs were played, post-World Cup 2015, by any of James Anderson (194 caps to that point), Ian Bell (161), Ravi Bopara (120) or James Tredwell (45).

All of that quartet, significantly, were already thirtysomethings at the time, quickly enabling vacancies for generally younger and more agile players to become available. (Remember that the Proteas were stocked with an uncomfortably fluffy tally of veterans in their CWC 2019 mix, admittedly a situation that will ease a little henceforth with the known retirements from the 50-overs format of Imran Tahir and JP Duminy.) 

Others to gradually fall by the ODI wayside for England after CWC 2015 - and not be part of the 2019 squad - were Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Chris Jordan and James Taylor, although the last-named player, currently 29, has quit all cricket for health-related reasons and is now a national selector.

With Tahir and Duminy both confirmed as having completed their service for the Proteas in ODIs, the most vulnerable current players now seem to be Hashim Amla (36 and violently fading in terms of once blissful weight of international runs) and Dale Steyn, the pace legend who is the same age and badly curtailed by injury for two or three years.

Is there possibly a message in there somewhere for Steyn that Anderson - to whom he is so often compared in Test cricket - packed up ODI activity completely after the 2015 World Cup? It has appeared to have decent spinoffs for his critical contribution at five-day level, where he is an evergreen presence for his country at almost 37.

England ... glaring also-rans in 2015, champions in 2019: it is proof of what can be done in the four-year cycle, through swift, fulsome acknowledgement of deficiencies and largely decisive remedial action.

Will the Proteas vigorously seek to follow a similar route?

The ball is in Cricket South Africa's court.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
46% - 3454 votes
11% - 820 votes
18% - 1335 votes
2% - 145 votes
1% - 61 votes
2% - 158 votes
5% - 380 votes
7% - 547 votes
3% - 232 votes
Water sports
1% - 63 votes
American sports
1% - 58 votes
3% - 194 votes