India tour could be the Protea’s recovery or a relapse



For the South African cricket side, it seems more like a steep hill to recovery than a road. This argument arises after their abysmal Cricket World Cup campaign in June, in which they were unable to mount a significant challenge to any of the world’s top nations.

The Proteas now tour India, who looked a cut above the rest for the majority of that World Cup, but perhaps suffered the infamous choke associated with the Proteas when they lost to New Zealand at the semifinal stage. But, that blip did not stop the Indians from massacring the West Indies in the Caribbean last month in all formats of the game.

And while previous tours to the most powerful test cricketing nation on earth brought with them all forms of anticipation and excitement, with these two squads at different ends of their trajectory, this tour carries a tinge of fear.

The Twenty20 series begins on Sunday at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamshala, and will be followed by three Test matches.

Although the Proteas sit above India in the T20 rankings, the men in blue lead the head to head in 20-over games by eight to five. However, when the Proteas toured India in 2015, they dominated the T20 and one-day international matches.

With India averaging just less than eight runs an over against the West Indies last month in their T20 series, the Proteas will need their batsmen to be everything they were not at the World Cup.

But, with Quinton de Kock captaining the side, his experience could lay the foundation for hard hitting from the outset. He has scored 887 runs in 36 T20 innings, averaging more than a run a ball.

Cricket South Africa has displayed great faith in the wicketkeeper by handing him the captaincy and, according to the new team director, Enoch Nkwe, they are “building for the future”.

De Kock’s vice-captain for the series is Rassie van der Dussen, who was arguably South Africa’s most impressive player at the World Cup, during which he scored 311 runs.

And, as the batsmen proved in their previous T20 series against Pakistan back in February, there is a quality player occupying each spot from number three all the way down to number eight. Reeza Hendricks, van der Dussen, Andile Phehlukwayo and David Miller all managed to score more than 40 in at least one of three matches.

South Africa’s bowling attack, spearheaded by poster boy Kagiso Rabada, will have to curb the bats of Indian captain Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma (the World Cup’s top run scorer) and Shikhar Dhawan, who holds the record for the most T20 international runs in a calendar year.

The Proteas bowlers will have to work on their looseness in giving runs away. They became all too familiar with conceding totals of more than 300 at the World Cup.

Although Beuran Hendricks, Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamsi and Dwaine Pretorius are all proven wicket takers, the spearhead of this attack is Rabada. In this there is an interesting contrast with new England sensation Jofra Archer.

Archer, who has sliced through batsmen since entering the game, proved insignificant in the fourth Test that saw Australia retain the Ashes. He bowled a total of 41 overs over the two innings, and was picked apart by the likes of Steve Smith, who eliminated the danger of small spells of quick bowling.

Rabada, who is included in the class of Archer and India’s Jasprit Bumrah in terms of pace, swing and bounce, looked a fraction of his best self at the World Cup. He did not break the double-figure mark in terms of wickets taken, while Archer and Bumrah dismantled opponents as the former picked up 20 and the latter rolled through 19 batsmen.

“I know I have been playing very well. Archer is such a natural talent; Bumrah is doing wonders and that can force you to lift your game. You are not always at the top, that’s one thing I can tell you,” Rabada said before the team jetted off to India.

Rabada also reminded the media about the successful T20 series of four years ago. But as for captain de Kock, he’s hopeful that the Proteas can show some of the fight that was so sorely lacking in England.

“Win or lose‚ I just want the guys to keep competing, keep fighting‚” de Kock said. “We’ve got quite a young team — there’ll be a lot of energy.”

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Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.

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