At the start of the summer, every South African fan was nervous about what the series against England would hold.
Most of us had renewed trust and faith in the set-up once the new coaching staff was announced and Faf du Plessis had confirmed his desire to remain as the captain of the Proteas Test team.
Four Tests, three ODIs and three T20s later, South Africa lost both the Test and T20 series, and drew the ODIs, all after taking a 1-0 lead in every format, and they are now without their captain Faf du Plessis, who today announced he is stepping down as the Test and T20 captain, with immediate effect.
“South African cricket has entered a new era. New leadership, new faces, new challenges and new strategies. I remain committed to play in all three formats of the game for now as a player and will offer my knowledge and time to the new leaders of the team.” said Faf.
It is disappointing but it is a selfless decision. A new young team is developing and he can now focus on playing purely as a batsman and leave all the off field nonsense behind him.
Back to the T20 series though, South Africa posted scores of 177-8, 202-7 & 222-6 in the 3-match series. Not a bad effort for a relatively inexperienced team. Where it however went wrong for the home side was with the bowling, particularly at the death.
The Proteas conceded 74 and 73 runs off the final five overs in the second and third T20s. That is quite simply inexcusable at this level. England conceded 57 & 58 runs in their final 5 overs of the same matches. What was the difference you may ask? Yorkers.
It is not a novel idea to bowl yorkers at the death of a limited overs innings, it is actually a simple yet effective strategy. You only need to look at how New Zealand and India bowl at the death to see how effective this delivery is.
The very fact that this has been an overarching problem for the Proteas for a number of seasons is worrying and it needs addressing. Their current bowling coach, Charl Langeveldt was famous for his ability to bowl yorkers at the death. This should be getting drilled into the bowlers at every training session.
If they cannot bowl a yorker, or don’t feel confident enough to bowl one, then practice.
Despite the series loss, there were positives to take from the T20 series. Given the strength of their opponents, South Africa managed to get all games down to the last over, largely thanks to their batting.
The opening partnership of Quinton de Kock (131 runs @ 44) and Temba Bavuma (123 runs @ 41) was exceptional. A problem for the Proteas of late has been their inability for the opening pair to put on a decent stand. de Kock and Bavuma however put on 92, 48 & 84 in the 3-match series and got the team off to the best possible start.
Rassie van der Dussen (85 runs @ 43) was also a positive. A player that continues to show his worth in the team, he can become the finisher the Proteas are looking for.
Once a full strength side is announced, one that includes the likes of Faf du Plessis, KG Rabada and Imran Tahir that suddenly adds an extreme amount of experience into the side, and also alleviates the need for specialist “finishers” like JJ Smuts, as the likes of Faf and Rassie can fill that role. Janneman Malan and Kyle Verreynne also need to get their chance in the Proteas T20 squad.
A squad with these experienced players, along with the exuberance of youth makes for a very strong and challenging team to beat.
There has been discussion regarding the inclusion of AB de Villiers in the Proteas T20 World Cup squad. Is it fair on the likes of Rassie or Heinrich Klaasen for example, to work hard to prove their worth in the T20 side, or on the young players looking to get into the team, like the Malans and Verreyenne’s of the world, to be left behind because a player that chose to leave, now wants to return?
AB is box office. He is a star. But would his inclusion fix what the ongoing issue is?
Adding an extra batsman, even if it is AB, is simply covering over the problem, and is not a solution. The solution is for the Proteas to finally learn how to bowl at the death of an innings.