Proteas: 19th time lucky in 2017?

Morne Morkel (AFP)
Morne Morkel (AFP)

Cape Town – There’s an uncomfortable synergy to South Africa’s famine in ICC world limited-overs tournaments … it currently encompasses both 18 events and 18 years.

Latest failure – not even reaching the last four – at the World Twenty20 in India recently meant that a deflating five World Cups, six WT20s and seven Champions Trophies have passed since the late Hansie Cronje lifted the maiden Champions Trophy (then branded ICC Knockout) in Bangladesh in 1998.

You have to possess a certain masochistic tendency or at the very least strong stomach to peek up the line at the international roster and establish that June 2017 is the next opportunity to rectify the glaring vacancy in the trophy cabinet at CSA’s HQ in Johannesburg.

That is when (June 1-19, to be exact) England hosts the ninth, 50-overs-format Champions Trophy, a tournament that was once in grave danger of being canned but has instead survived and thrived -- it is deemed by many observers almost a better product in certain ways than the more elongated World Cup as it traditionally omits the second-tier countries and thus tends to feature engrossing, strength-versus-strength cricket throughout its tight, often more intense duration.

The World Cup remains, and rightly so, the most prestigious of the three jamborees but success in the other two is still a big deal, as evidenced by the joy and galvanising effect in the wide Caribbean region of West Indies’ WT20 triumph on Sunday.

And given the ever-deepening extent of the Proteas’ ICC event drought, finally winning any one of the infernal trio would be considered manna from heaven.

So Champions Trophy 2017 is really the next major white-ball target for AB de Villiers and company as T20 takes a fairly pronounced back seat for them – as things stand, the Proteas only have six T20 internationals on their agenda for the entire 14-month lead-up period (three at home against Sri Lanka, three away to New Zealand) to the Champs Trophy.

But the players cannot accuse the CSA suits of failing to give them a plethora of appropriate, good-class ODI activity ahead of the event.

For those feeling understandably a little down in the dumps about SA cricket right now, it is worth remembering that in the 50-overs environment the Proteas are on a healthy enough roll – their best of all three formats, really -- as they seek to improve further their current world ranking of fourth.

They have won each of their last three bilateral ODI series, which include tremendous 3-2 triumphs away to India and much more recently at home to an England side very close in composition to the squad which so nearly claimed the WT20 crown only to be brutally deprived by the four-sixes-in-a-row heroics of one Carlos Brathwaite.

The Proteas have ample opportunity to patiently fine-tune for the Champions Trophy as their busy ODI schedule for the next year features, in this order: tri-series with West Indies and Australia in Caribbean (June), five-match home series against the Aussies (September/October) plus once-off clash with Ireland, five-match home series against Sri Lanka (height of 2016/17 domestic summer) and five-game series in New Zealand (February/March).

Even better, South Africa will have the perfect, acclimatising exercise for the Champions Trophy as they are due to face England in three ODIs on their soil in May 2017, just ahead of the tournament.

Considering that their big-event bogey is so widespread, playing that event in England will not make things any additionally daunting or unsuitable for the Proteas, as conditions there – especially in often damp, very early UK summer – often work best in favour, certainly from a batting point of view, of more technically correct, patient and ideally Test-hardened customers.

In that respect, stalwarts like Hashim Amla, De Villiers and Faf du Plessis, with their broad experience and nous in all formats, should come well into their own.

When the Proteas climb gingerly back onto the bicycle, as it were, with the June triangular in the West Indies, their ODI personnel probably won’t change too markedly, although the recent encouraging form of someone like the unpredictable Wayne Parnell, who offers attractive left-arm seam variety, could be fairly difficult to overlook.

One thing is more certain: lanky paceman Morne Morkel, a debatable omission from SA’s WT20 squad, will be restored to rightful favour for the Caribbean ODI mission given his track record and the fact that front foot-orientated big hitters are always less likely to give him the brazen charge because of his high-bounce, bang-it-in ability.

Critics like former Proteas coach Mickey Arthur and Ashes-winning former England captain Michael Vaughan are just a couple who have publicly suggested, and with some conviction, recently that the SA selectors were erroneous in not taking him to India …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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