Proteas coach Mark Boucher was unwilling to concede this week that his team are the ’underdogs’ heading into the England series.
CAPE TOWN – South African cricket has been in limbo – at least on the field – since the Proteas were rushed back home from India in March due to Covid-19.
Off the field, though, it’s been a raging bushfire. The coronavirus has been just one of the challenges during this explosive period for the game in Mzansi.
The Black Lives Matter movement set in motion a sequence of events that forced South African cricket to confront underlying racial injustices that it had for too long tried to ignore, while CSA’s eventual dismissal of former chief executive Thabang Moroe was the catalyst for its malfunctioning boardroom to detonate.
But somehow, after a number of casualties, we are finally here. The sun has literally come out and Table Mountain is providing the most gorgeous backdrop for the players to take centre stage again.
The Proteas against England in a T20I series. The Newlands faithful won’t be present to welcome the players back in respect of the bio-secure environment, but there will be action– and plenty of it.
While it might feel like an eternity due to the mental toll of 2020, it was actually only 10 months ago when these two teams last met in the shortest format here in South Africa.
And what a humdinger of a series it was. England edged over the line 2-1 with all three matches offering up gripping contests. Quinton de Kock’s Proteas burgled a one-run victory in East London before Eoin Morgan’s team snatched a two-run win in Durban to set up a series finale at Centurion.
A run-fest ensued with Morgan, ultimately, driving his team’s successful pursuit of a mammoth 222 through a blistering 57 not out off only 22 balls – an innings dominated by seven sixes.
If the coming series offers similar high-value entertainment there’s no doubt the TV ratings could smash through the ceiling.
Although Proteas coach Mark Boucher was unwilling to concede this week that his team are the “underdogs” heading into the series, the former national wicket-keeper will know that for his side to stand toe-to-toe once again with this blockbuster England team he will need to find greater balance in his starting XI.
England are blessed with an abundance of high-quality all-rounders. From the mercurial Ben Stokes through to the dashing Moeen Ali and supported by the exciting Curran brothers (Sam and Tom) and now the progression of ace fast bowler Jofra Archer with the bat, Morgan is in possession of the golden ticket.
The Proteas, meanwhile, are hugely dependent on their “specialists” getting the job done. While the make-up of the top five batsmen has not yet been finalised, none of the current personnel within the squad besides Warriors stalwart Jon-Jon Smuts is a bowling option.
Equally, down the order, South Africa’s first-choice bowling unit that will most likely consist of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and Tabraiz Shamsi does not offer much value with the willow.
The new selection panel, chaired now by former Proteas fast bowler Victor Mpitsang, has attempted to address the pressing issue with the inclusion of in-form Cape Cobras all-rounder George Linde to provide support to incumbents Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius.
Linde certainly offers plenty of promise. He is a hard-hitting middle-order batsman that has the ability to clear the ropes at will, while his slow left-arm spin has already earned recognition at Test level. With the next T20 World Cup set for India next year, the 28-year-old from Durbanville may just be the trump card Boucher has been searching for.
But for all the potential of rookie Linde, it will be Phehlukwayo that the Proteas seek bigger performances from. He may still be only 24, but has already acquired the experience of 58 ODIs and 27 T20Is since his international bow in 2016.
During this period Phehlukwayo has shown that he relishes the pressure moments – an attribute greatly admired by Boucher – and that he wants to be the guy the captain throws the ball to in the heat of battle.
He wants to make match-winning plays. The team just needs him to do it with the bat too when the opportunity arises.
Plenty will be revealed over the course of the next fortnight. And for that we are eternally grateful – cricket is finally getting underway …
WHAT BOSS BOUCHER HAD TO SAY…
“We have identified the way we want to play. We want to be nice and aggressive, that is the way the game is going. But you can’t be mavericks either, you need to be nice and smart.
“We need to get all-rounders into the system. I am certainly looking at a top-order batter that can give you a few overs. That’s the challenge that we’re always looking for those types of players. We are also trying to help the batters and bowlers add shots or varieties of balls to their game to help them develop.”