New Super League threatens to render Proteas' pre-Covid upswing a false dawn

Heinrich Klaasen's continued resurgence at international level will be vital for the Proteas.
Heinrich Klaasen's continued resurgence at international level will be vital for the Proteas.
Ashley Vlotman
  • Despite a promising upswing before Covid-19 struck, the Proteas ODI team face an immense task qualifying for 2023's World Cup.
  • The ICC's new Super League, the system for qualification, sees them face six of the world's top eight teams.
  • For a squad in transition, allied to the malaise at administrative level, nothing seems certain.

Whether by accident or design, the Proteas' encouraging 3-0 ODI series win over Australia has become quite significant since the ICC announced the start of the ODI Super League.

The new system, which will determine the teams participating in 2023's World Cup, features 13 teams vying for seven automatic qualification spots.

If a team doesn't make that cut, it will be required to take part in the World Cup qualifiers.

South Africa will play eight teams, consisting of four at home and four away.

The most apparent issue with the Super League, implemented to give all bilateral ODI series more context, is time.

It's scheduled to end in March 2022 but with the Covid-19 pandemic playing havoc with world cricket's schedule, that seems quite tight.

Ironically, that's not the Proteas' biggest headache.

Theirs is the challenge of navigating a programme that requires them to play Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Ireland and the Netherlands. 

To put that into perspective, the only top eight team Quinton de Kock and his troops won't be locking horns with is New Zealand, last year's World Cup runner-up.

The current Future Tours Programme (FTP) played a part as there is simply no window of opportunity for everyone to play against each other yet it's fair to say South Africa have been dealt a difficult hand.

History will tell that the Proteas wouldn't mind the Super League too much as they have a surprisingly good record between World Cups.

In fact, between 2015 and 2019's editions, South Africa boasted an overall win percentage of 67% (44 from 65), placing them top of the pile.

The hardnosed Graeme Smith, national director of cricket, and Mark Boucher, head coach, will also welcome the opportunity for the Proteas to continue their rebuild from the ashes of last year's campaign by playing against some of the best.

However, context is important.

The national squad is truly in a transitional phase, despite the major boost of a clean sweep against the Australians.

A spate of retirements in the 50-over format, which includes Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, JP Duminy and AB de Villiers has taken its toll in terms of plugging the gap.

And while players like Heinrich Klaasen, Lungi Ngidi, Janneman Malan and to a lesser extent Kyle Verreynne and Jon-Jon Smuts have stepped up, the Australian ODI triumph was Boucher's first series win in four.

That doesn't exactly suggest the South Africans are suddenly world beaters again.

Importantly, the quality of their opposition will render which series are played where important.

It's not easy beating the Aussies, India, Pakistan and even Bangladesh in their own backyards.

With the fixture list also set to become more congested, have the Proteas built enough depth to balance squad management with the need for positive series results? 

Will the potent but injury-prone attack of Kagiso Rabada, Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Lutho Sipamla and Beuran Hendricks show new levels of conditioning post-lockdown?

Can Smith and Co. shield the players from the demoralising effects of a Cricket South Africa administration hamstrung by questionable governance and infighting? 

The Super League suddenly looks like a monumental task. 

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