From the unmitigated heights of the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup victory to the depths of mauling suffered by the men’s cricket team; from the inspiring performance by our too-oft neglected netball team who upset the world order, to the failure of Banyana to match the glory of the previous season— it has been an emotional year. A year where our sporting teams have reiterated the incredible tenacity and large dollops of faith that is required to be called a true ‘South African’
A terrible 2019 for the Proteas
Where exactly is this team going? After expectations reached their peak at the World Cup two years ago, the Proteas abseiled down, found a comfortable plateau and have hung out there ever since.
Those lower altitudes are inducing a bit of déjà vu. Everything feels the same this year as it did last December: a humbling at the hands of customary foes, weaker nations doing their bit to help pad the stats, and the usual suspects dragging the team along. With the Women’s T20 World Cup coming up in February, we don’t have many reasons not to fear a repeat of 2018’s mediocre performance.
The Proteas would briefly redeem themselves after that exit when Sri Lanka toured in February. Whitewash victories were recorded in both the ODI and T20 series as the year got off to the best possible start. But it’s that familiar story again — the lower-ranked teams offer us the rare notches in the win column.
Pakistan, however, had other ideas when they visited in May. A wild ODI trilogy saw South Africa bowled out for an embarrassing 63 in the first game and win the next one, before putting in a chaotic tie to draw the series. The Proteas, to their credit, came from behind to win the T20 best-of-five series.
India would soon introduce the most damning evidence yet. At about the same time that the South African public was doing its best to ignore the men’s disastrous excursion on the subcontinent, so too were the women receiving a proper walloping. At no stage did they look competitive as a clear 3-1 defeat in the shorter format was followed by a whitewash in the three ODIs.
The dearth of big-game players is symptomatic of the side’s broader struggles. It would be hard to ask anyone beyond Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt to carry the bat full-time. Shabnim Ismail is the only bowler who threatens to be world class across both formats. The all-rounder abilities of Marizanne Kapp and Dane van Niekerk are indispensable and when one of them is missing our threat dials down considerably.
Some promising younger talents have made the squad but we’re yet to see regular game-changing performances from them. The Proteas desperately need to groom some of these players if the team is going to write a different story in 2020.
Well, this one is easy. The Proteas have been so bad they’ve defied the possibility of offering any sort of constructive criticism. In fact, any criticism at all feels like kicking someone who’s just been publicly flogged.
We’re all well-versed in the tragedy by now. Sri Lanka invaded in March and gave South Africa one of its most embarrassing Test series defeats since readmission. The warnings were there for everyone to see. Still, we wondered: surely things aren’t as bad as the naysayers insisted?
They were worse.
The Proteas didn’t carry the over-optimism they usually take to World Cups but a certain level of competitiveness didn’t seem like an unreasonable request. How wrong that thinking was.
South Africa were a non-factor in England. Over the course of the group stage, the side seemed powerless as opponent after opponent showed up and took the easy runs and wickets on offer. After essentially booking return tickets in week two, the team had to endure the ignominy of arriving back to a public that demanded heads roll.
Unsurprisingly, Ottis Gibson and his technical team were the ones to lose theirs but that did nothing to pause the dramatic decline.
India made sure of that. That tour, like the disasters that preceded it, unsubtly exposed a crisis that has been bubbling under the surface. No one is putting up their hand to replace the marquee names that have stepped away from the team – Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers among them.
There are some important questions about the batting order. Aiden Markram doesn’t seem to be the leader we hoped he would turn into; too often Faf du Plessis doesn’t show his credentials at the crease; and the support cast — players like Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma — too often don’t bother showing up at all.
Things aren’t much better with the ball. An overworked Kagiso Rabada was never going to be able to meet the unrelenting expectations placed on him as South Africa’s premier speedster. Not making his situation any easier were injuries to Lungi Ngidi and Steyn, and Duanne Olivier’s decision to jump ship.
It’s hard to see how any of this will get better in the future, especially with our administrators demonstrating an even greater level of incompetence. A terrible year for South African cricket.