Proteas have bigger worries than two-Test nightmare

Dale Steyn (Gallo)
Dale Steyn (Gallo)

Cape Town - It doesn't take a cricketing guru to know that the Proteas were abysmal in their two Tests against Sri Lanka. 

The batting department fired blanks throughout - Theunis de Bruyn's dead rubber innings in the second Test excluded - while the bowlers were barely given a chance thanks to some bizarre selections. 

As Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing asked: Has there been a worse tactical call by a South African leadership group than the decision to go into the second Colombo Test with only one spinner?

Keshav Maharaj's nine-for in the first innings suggests not. 

Dale Steyn, meanwhile, picked up just two wickets for his worst ever strike rate return in a Test series. 

It is, of course, far from fair to lay the blame at the feet of the returning Steyn, or any of the seamers for that matter. 

The conditions on offer required the Proteas to adapt, and they couldn't. 

Batting coach Dale Benkenstein played eight of his 23 ODIs for South Africa on the subcontinent, but he was not capped at Test level. 

Again, it is unfair to blame Benkenstein, but surely the lesson has now been learnt: When the Proteas travel to the subcontinent in future, they must do so with a consultant who has done the bulk of his international batting in those parts. It just makes the most sense. 

Fortunately for the Proteas, their next trip to the subcontinent only comes in October 2019, after the completion of that year's Cricket World Cup in England. 

The Proteas will tour India for three Test matches that will also be their first participation in the first ever ICC Test Championship. 

Until then, though, the priority for head coach Ottis Gibson and his men must be ODI cricket and challenging for a first ever World Cup. 

As important as Test cricket is, that must now take a back seat. 

The form of the likes of David Miller, JP Duminy, Heinrich Klaasen and Andile Phehlukwayo now becomes far more significant than Steyn and his quest to become the greatest bowler in the history of South African Test cricket. 

If the plan is for Steyn to play at the 2019 World Cup, then he should play in this ODI series against Sri Lanka too. 

The conditions are obviously not ideal, but Gibson and skipper Faf du Plessis have an opportunity in this five-match series to continue their search to find the right balance in this Proteas set-up. 

The road to the 2019 World Cup without AB de Villiers starts now, and the Proteas must find their best combinations. 

Is a Hashim Amla/Quinton de Kock opening pair still the best option? Who bats at No 4 in place of De Villiers? Is Immy Tahir still the first-choice spinning option? Who is the finisher in the lower order? Who takes the new ball? These are all questions that still don't seem to have clear answers. 

There are 21 ODIs until the start of the World Cup, not including any warm-up matches that take place in England, and all the focus must now turn to that tournament. 

Once that is over, attention can turn to the Test Championship and how to best deal with that daunting Indian challenge. 

But going back to the subcontinent with a first-ever World Cup trophy in the cabinet would go a long way towards extinguishing the pain of anything that follows. 

There is no time to dwell.

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