SA’s living won’t be easy this summer

The bleakness with which the results from South Africa’s three-month tour of England have been received is to be expected. Some of it may have become a little too personal, but that’s far better than them being ignored — or should be. At least South Africans still care.

Questions about the depth of the country’s playing resources can also be a red herring. The reality is that there are enough good players at the top of the pyramid to form winning squads in Test and one-day international cricket. Nobody should be too concerned about T20 Internationals for the moment: South Africa use the platform as a “beginner’s guide” to international cricket — and have never been very good at it anyway.

Eight of the first-choice Test XI are comfortably the best in their class and will almost certainly play the majority of the 10 Test matches coming up this summer. Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada and Morné Morkel have no pretenders to their positions.

Vernon Philander should be on that list, too, but patience with his modest fitness record visibly ran out when he withdrew on the morning of the fourth Test with a stiff back. Du Plessis informed him that he was becoming a laughing stock in world cricket and a liability to the team. At his best, though, he is unsurpassed.

“Vern is probably the best in the world in seaming — swinging conditions, which we had in all four Test matches, so not having him here was very frustrating and disappointing,” Du Plessis said.

“It is a challenge for him because it’s happened too often that he doesn’t play a full series. I’ve spoken to him about that and he’s accepted the challenge. There have just been too many times when we as a team go, ‘Gulp, Vern might be injured again.’ So he’s taken it on board from a fitness point of view. We have important series coming up, India and Australia at home, it’s eight Test matches and he needs to be fit to get through all of them.”

Philander’s fitness aside, the most important task facing Du Plessis, the new coach and anybody else with influence over the country’s greatest modern-era batsman, is persuading AB de Villiers to make himself available for those Test matches. “Persuasion” of the wrong sort would be counterproductive. A reluctant De Villiers would be a shadow of his real self. Du Plessis knows him better than most and he holds out little hope. His frustration is obvious, too.

“I would love AB to play — we all know how good he is and we’ve missed him, but we’ve spent too much time talking about when he is going to come back. The hope of him coming back is something we need to move past. We need to find someone else who can fulfil that role. If AB comes back it’s a huge bonus, but I don’t expect him to come back into the Test team.”

Acquiring the services of Ottis Gibson as the new coach, although far from straightforward, might be easier. He remains contracted to the England cricket board as bowling coach and, if they do allow him to move to a position he clearly covets, there may be compensation to pay — and Cricket South Africa does not part with its cash easily. Perhaps the millions of dollars supposedly being paid by the global T20 franchises will change that.

Bangladesh are the first summer visitors and they will not be the pushovers they once were. The Proteas need to find an opening partner for Elgar and decide whether to pursue a four-man pace attack with the excellent Maharaj providing the spin or revert to the three-seamer policy, which served them so well with Dale Steyn still on board. Steyn is 34 and will have been out of the game for 11 months once the first Test is played. He might have another year at the highest level, or even two, but starting a Test match with both him and Philander would seem an unwise gamble.

If Gibson, former West Indian all-rounder and coach, is confirmed as the replacement for Russell Domingo, he will begin his tenure with some extremely good raw material. And some excellent matured material, for that matter.

He was a fine player during a career that included six seasons in South Africa during the 1990s, during which he developed a strong affection for and affinity with the country. He will not be caught unawares by the unique demands of South African cricket. In fact, they are one of the reasons he was so keen to make himself available.

The ODI series in England was lost. The Champions Trophy ended in ignominy. The T20 series was lost. England won three Tests in a series against South Africa for the first time since 1960, and won a series on home soil against them for the first since 1998. It all felt extremely gloomy. But there are reasons to be confident that it might all brighten up again soon — at least in the short term.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp works from Cape Town. Talk and write about cricket,golf and most sports. Executive Coach. Cook for the family when at home. Neil Manthorp has over 27405 followers on Twitter.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Poachers in prisons tell their stories

Interviews with offenders provide insight into the structure of illegal wildlife trade networks

Covid-overflow hospital in ruins as SIU investigates

A high-level probe has begun into hundreds of millions of rand spent by the Gauteng health department to refurbish a hospital that is now seven months behind schedule – and lying empty

More top stories

The politics of the Zuma-Zondo showdown

Any move made by the Zondo commission head or by former president Jacob Zuma must be calculated, because one mistake from either side could lead to a political fallout

Museveni declared winner of disputed Uganda election

Security personnel out in force as longtime president wins sixth term and main challenger Bobi Wine alleges rigging.

Pay-TV inquiry probes the Multichoice monopoly

Africa’s largest subscription television operator says it is under threat amid the emerging popularity of global platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime

‘No one took us seriously’: Black cops warned about racist...

Allegations of racism against the Capitol Police are nothing new: Over 250 Black cops have sued the department since 2001. Some of those former officers now say it’s no surprise white nationalists were able to storm the building

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…