South Africa hardly covered themselves in glory at the last edition of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, played on Indian soil in 2016.
Heard that one before? It is, of course, their unfortunate penchant at many multinational, white-ball jamborees.
The Proteas of the time were certainly no different: they flattered to deceive in winning two and losing two encounters in Group 1, to end third of the four teams in it and just fail to make the semi-final cut.
While beating Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, they played second fiddle to England and West Indies, both of whom progressed to the knockouts in a tournament eventually won, just a little against the odds, by the Caribbean outfit.
That SA side, under the leadership of Faf du Plessis, entered the event with a long-in-the-tooth look about it, and with most squad members’ strengths and shortcomings already well familiar to the foes they encountered.
Of the 15-strong group, an unhealthy nine of them (60 percent) were 30 or above: Du Plessis himself (31 at the time), Hashim Amla (32), Farhaan Behardien (32), AB de Villiers (32), JP Duminy (31), Imran Tahir (36), Aaron Phangiso (32), Dale Steyn (32) and David Wiese (30).
Falling into a slightly more youth-geared category were only the twentysomethings then: Kyle Abbott, Quinton de Kock, David Miller, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada and Rilee Rossouw.
While a few veterans, some now particularly so, should still be in the picture for October’s scheduled next edition in Australia – assuming it does not fall prey to current coronavirus havoc – the Proteas will definitely be without several players who have either retired completely or are just no longer available for national purposes.
Into that bracket fall Amla, Behardien, Duminy, Abbott, Rossouw and Wiese (several on Kolpak contracts in the UK) and probably also Phangiso, who has not played at any level for the Proteas since early 2018.
That in itself will give the current SA brains trust, led by head coach Mark Boucher, the likelihood of a more agreeable balance between young players and seasoned pros when they name the squad for the 2020 T20 World Cup.
As much as there were broadly rosy signs of revival by South Africa at both T20 and one-day international level at the back end of an otherwise grim, just-ended 2019/20 summer, the Proteas were starting to infuse rookie talents to a sizeable extent.
While they were pipped 2-1 in successive T20 home series by two quality rivals, England and Australia, confirmation of the fact that their limited-overs cause was beginning to sort itself out again came through a 1-1 share of the ODI spoils with the English and then the curtain-closing, enormously heartening 3-0 drubbing of the Aussies in a further tussle in the 50-overs format.
In the period, Boucher and company gave either maiden or still fledgling-phase exposure to bright batting starlets like Janneman Malan (23), Kyle Verreynne (22) and gradually blossoming pace-bowling figures Anrich Nortje (26) and Lutho Sipamla (21).
It was also a period in which the clean and long-striking Heinrich Klaasen, also still comfortably inside the 30-mark, hugely re-announced himself, with a blistering late charge, as an international-calibre competitor.
Against that backdrop, it would perhaps not be the worst thing – even if it admittedly curtails further opportunity for amassing top-level wisdom – should the Proteas struggle to see much of their scheduled activity during the South African winter, while Covid-19 continues to make its cruel presence felt.
Not only would it leave them psychologically still emboldened in the spring by their regrowth strides at the tail-end of the last season, but also with a tidy, beneficial element of mystery around some of their newer faces … something they could not substantially boast in India at their humdrum 2016 T20 World Cup.
That, in turn, could be enough to see them handed a respect-laden, surprise-package rating status in the immediate lead-up to the Australian-staged tournament.
And wouldn’t you bank that, long-suffering Proteas fans?
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