South Africa were hammered by nine wickets by Zimbabwe in the final of the tournament last weekend, having been beaten once each by both the hosts and Bangladesh in the round-robin stage.
“I was a bit surprised, I thought we’d play better. I know there was a bit of rustiness and they were up against international bowlers, especially the slower bowlers, who are world-class. It was also difficult for the batsmen because it was not easy just to come in and score runs,” Barnes said at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria on Tuesday.
“I was also surprised by the conditions. Last year when South Africa A played a triangular series with Zim and Australia A, the conditions weren’t like that at all. At the start, teams were defending 230 in 50 overs, but, by the end, teams were scoring 300.”
The T20 triangular series was regarded as a warm-up/trial for the ICC World Twenty20 Championship in Sri Lanka in September, and South Africa will probably be met by similar conditions on the sub-continental island.
“Some places in Sri Lanka will be similar, but at others you’ll be looking to defend 200. But the pitches will generally be slow and turning and the ball won’t be bouncing much,” Barnes conceded.
But the former national assistant coach said the trip should not be regarded as a failure, because it has brought more clarity to selection, some players advancing their cause and others dissuading the national selectors of their suitability.
“We definitely have more clarity now, it gives us ideas of what combinations will work. Gary Kirsten wanted specific players to rest for the tour and we wanted to have a look at fringe players, we wanted to know what was available for our best 15 for Sri Lanka,” Barnes said.
There has been a simmering air of discontent over South Africa’s strength in depth after the unexpected results, but Barnes, who is currently coaching the SA A team, put the inconsequential defeats into context.
“Lonwabo Tsotsobe is still the number one ranked bowler in limited-overs cricket, even though it was disappointing to see him not being so effective, and Wayne Parnell and Marchant de Lange are both quality bowlers who are coming up through the system.
“Our preparations this winter are all about the A team shadowing the national side and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the energy and drive and ambition there is to play for the national team. It’s higher than I expected, even more than last year.
“A lot of time and effort is spent with the A team and we give them all the necessary tools to get them where they should be,” Barnes said.
As the South Africa A team prepare to do battle with Sri Lanka A in two four-day matches, plus a one-day triangular series in Zimbabwe against the same opposition and their neighbours, it would be stupid to write off the system that has served brilliantly as a pipeline in the past, based on one poor series of matches that were being used more as a trial than competitive outings.
Even though Quinton Friend is likely to sit out with a strained back, South Africa A will still field a top-class attack with De Lange, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, Chris Morris and Parnell all available, while leg-spinner Imran Tahir will be making a guest appearance in the first four-day match at Kingsmead.
A batting line-up featuring Faf du Plessis, Farhaan Berhardien, Dean Elgar, Colin Ingram, Heino Kuhn, Richard Levi, David Miller, Justin Ontong and Dane Vilas should certainly also engender a great deal of confidence, and a clearer picture of South Africa’s depth should emerge after SA A complete the four-dayers and the limited-overs triangular on July 21.