The Proteas flew to the Caribbean on Wednesday for a lengthy one-day international (ODI) triangular series involving Australia and the West Indies that will be as intriguing as it is meaningless in so many ways. At least the hosts are the only team on Earth able to surpass South Africa for off-field politicisation, and comfortably.
While the International Cricket Council ponders and prevaricates over the urgent need to introduce a meaningful format and league for Test and ODI cricket, we are left to rely on the traditional rivalry between Australia and South Africa to capture and sustain our interest with the spices and seasoning of the region to supplement it.
The Proteas have a familiar look about them, especially in the batting department, where only the omission of David Miller is a change from recent years. Rilee Rossouw and Farhaan Behardien will have yet another opportunity to make themselves regulars at number five or six and JP Duminy, on recent form, may also be sucked into that scrap.
Chris Morris has shown enough form with the bat to start at number seven in the batting order, which solves one problem — a genuine all-rounder — but still leaves the Proteas without any batting to speak of below that, with Kagiso Rabada leading the attack to be joined by either Morné Morkel or Kyle Abbott among the seamers, and Aaron Phangiso likely to partner Imran Tahir in a two-man spin attack ahead of Tabraiz Shamsi.
At least, that’s how it might start. But with six round-robin games before a possible final, there should be plenty of time for Wayne Parnell to prove that his stunning domestic form, with bat and ball, can translate internationally and for chinaman bowler Shamsi to show that his success in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Caribbean Premier League, temperamentally and statistically, could also work at the highest level.
Parnell remains one of the most frustratingly unfulfilled talents of the past two decades but he is at an age when most all-rounders are only starting to understand their games and the demands of their role. He can bowl as fast as almost anyone, he swings the ball and he is an accomplished enough batsman to score hundreds. Perhaps, having married two weeks ago and settled in Cape Town, this will be his real coming.
Australia welcome back peppery fast bowler Mitchell Starc after a prolonged injury break and will have a fresh squad, having recalled captain Steve Smith and key all-rounders Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh prematurely from the IPL with injury niggles. They, certainly, are taking the series seriously.
To say that the selection of the home side’s squad has raised eyebrows would be to say South Africans suspect their president may have overspent.
At the heart of the angst is a West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) ruling that only players who participated in the Caribbean domestic 50-over competition are eligible for selection, which ruled out Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy, Andre Russell and Lendl Simmons, all of whom would comfortably be in the top 15 players from the region. But that’s not all.
Some of those who did make the cut are quixotic picks, to say the least. Jonathan Carter is there, having averaged 6.3 in three ODIs in Sri Lanka and wasn’t in the top 10 run scorers in the domestic tournament.
Johnson Charles and Andre Fletcher are included, having averaged 18 and 13 respectively. Evin Lewis was the best opener in the tournament but doesn’t feature. Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel did not play, but he is there. As are Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine, neither of whom played — admittedly because of injury and suspension. But aren’t rules rules?
The WICB policy on selection was started in 2010 and cemented in stone by the current director of cricket, former South African domestic coach Richard Pybus. The players were told that accepting contracts in the Big Bash and Pakistan Super League, worth on average between $50?000 and $70?000 for a month, ahead of playing domestically at $700 a game, would make them ineligible for international selection.
Nothing the great Clive Lloyd does can ever detract from his record as a player and captain. All-time great — fact. But his comments as selection chief defy belief.
“Once they play in the competition, fine,” he says in defence of the omission of some of the best limited-overs cricketers in the world. “The point is, they are still top-class cricketers and they should come and play in the tournaments because that is the board’s rule,” Lloyd said.
“I want our cricket to be the main course and the IPL to be the snack, but we have it the other way around, so we have a problem,” he said. “I don’t want to stop our players making money but they must emulate those from other cricketing nations, who, though they compete in the IPL, make themselves available when called upon to represent their national side.”
Cricket South Africa takes a different view. AB de Villiers, the national captain, was excused his duties as his team left for the Caribbean and will only catch up with them after the IPL final, almost a week after they arrive and just three days before the first match. That is called pragmatism.