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Ken Borland

Under-performing Proteas have SA cricket under enormous pressure

Posted on June 26, 2023 by Ken

South African cricket is under enormous pressure at the moment, with the Proteas battling to keep their heads above water in Australia at the height of summer in a Test series that enjoys considerable profile due to it being between the two sides at number one and two in the World Test Championship.

The second Test at the MCG from Boxing Day, one of the great occasions in the game, is do-or-die for the Proteas in terms of staying alive in the series; but it also offers them the chance to go into 2023 on a much-needed positive note.

There can be no doubt that the South African cricket team have underperformed in 2022. The Test format has actually been their strongest, which is why they are still in contention to play in next year’s World Test Championship final, despite having one of the weakest batting line-ups.

They began 2022 by sealing a memorable series win over India, where the batsmen showed true guts and the bowlers were superb in home conditions. Their inconsistency then came to the fore in New Zealand with an abysmal performance in the first Test, but then a brilliant effort in the second to draw the series on the home turf of the reigning WTC champions.

Bangladesh were efficiently dispatched by a Proteas team missing their IPL stars, but spinners Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer came to the fore, and a thumping innings win over England at Lord’s followed to really raise expectations.

But then the batting was exposed and heavy defeats followed at Old Trafford and the Oval. The Gabba massacre was a continuation of that trend.

The same batting woes often inflicted the T20 side. There were times when the Proteas looked genuine T20 World Cup contenders, like when they beat India away twice in a row in June or won the series in England. Even at the World Cup in Australia, winning a crunch game against India in Perth gave renewed hope; but they then lost to Pakistan and, most humiliatingly, to the Netherlands when just one more win would have seen them through to the semi-finals.

South Africa’s ODI form has been mediocre. The highlight of the last year was the 3-0 series win over India in the Cape, but unfortunately that did not qualify for World Cup qualification points. Their record for the rest of the year in ODIs was three wins and five losses, including a shock home series defeat to Bangladesh.

The Proteas are now struggling to automatically qualify for next year’s 50-over World Cup, especially since they are forfeiting their series in Australia, which was meant to follow the Tests, to concentrate on the SA20 competition, a desperate bid to rescue Cricket South Africa’s finances.

Those same dismal finances are the reason the Proteas are going to be desperately under-exposed at Test level over the next few years, so how can we honestly expect them (especially the batsmen) to get better in that arena? The Australia tour is the last three-Test series South Africa will play until September 2026!

The lack of attention CSA is giving to red-ball cricket is an immense frustration. There are many coaches who believe having a foundation in the skills of long-format cricket actually makes better limited-overs players, so we should not be surprised that the malaise spreads to the ODI and T20 performances.

And it’s not just the Proteas who aren’t getting enough red-ball cricket. Our domestic stars, the internationals of the future, play just seven four-day games the whole season. With the inevitable weather interventions and innings wins, some batsmen will only get 10 visits to the crease all summer.

And then there is the quality of that cricket. It is really annoying that the Proteas play such scant regard to ‘paying it back’ to the system that grew them and play so infrequently, even right before a major series like the current one in Australia.

I have no doubt our batsmen’s woes can be directly attributed to the fact their games are not sufficiently honed at domestic level. They are seldom really challenged from both ends during a game, whereas at international level they will face two fast bowlers roaring in at 140km/h or a top-quality spinner almost the whole time.

Unless these basic building blocks are fixed, we can stand by for another very frustrating year.

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