Before the start for the 2019 World Cup, the Proteas were among the favourites to lift the title. And why not? They had a gun bowling attack led by the irrepressible Kagiso Rabada, reinforced by veteran spinner Imran Tahir and powered by a highly experienced batting line-up under the sound leadership of Faf du Plessis.
And well before the end of the league phase, South Africa are out of the World Cup. Actually, they were never really ‘in’ it to be out of it. While the record books will say their defeat to Pakistan was the result that sent them crashing out of the tournament, in reality it was just the time the doctor pronounced the patient dead; the writing was on the wall well before that.
Hardly any cricket follower, including me, expected South Africa to become one of the first teams to get knocked out and that too in emphatic fashion. Absolutely every aspect of their game carried a pungent odour which the tournament couldn’t wait to get rid off.
It started with a spate of injuries to key bowlers – starting with young quick Anrich Nortje, then to veteran quick Dale Steyn and briefly to Lungi Ngidi. It also became clear that spearhead Rabada hadn’t recovered fully from the back ailment he had picked up during the Indian Premier League and came into the tournament worn out.
Then there is the batting. Their highest score so far is 68. Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf, David Miller, Aiden Markram, JP Duminy seemed to be there just to make up numbers. Duminy has been on the international scene for 15 years and Miller for 11. But what’s the point of such experience – if you can call it that? In a way, you can understand why AB de Villiers ‘offered’ to come out of retirement right before the World Cup squad was to be announced. It was wrong on ABD’s part to walk out of the team last year – when he could have easily stuck around – and then make that ‘offer’ at the 11th hour. But maybe South Africa wouldn’t have been in such bad shape with ABD around. Anyhow, that’s water under the bridge. Time to move on.
However, if South Africa cricket fans think the worst is over, there is bad news for them. The gradual decline in the standards of South Africa cricket – hit hard by successive Kolpak deals taking the cream of Proteas cricketers to the UK and the far from ideal financial position of the cricket board – might just pick up speed now that the World Cup is over. More South African international players might take up county deals in England and give up on international careers.
When leading fast bowler Duanne Olivier gave up a chance to play the World Cup for South Africa and instead signed up a much more lucrative county deal with Yorkshire in February, the current state of cricket in South Africa was laid bare for the world to see. A hugely lucrative and long-term contract in the UK, plus the green light to play in any league you want on the planet, coupled with a much safer environment to live in make Kolpak deals a perennial threat. And De Villiers has set an example to other South African cricketers by giving up on international cricket and becoming a mercenary cricketer who plays all year round.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if South Africa continues to produce world-class cricketers, only for England and T20 leagues to scoop up the best and leave the Proteas side scampering to put together a decent side at the international arena. Success at the World Cup would not have reversed that trend but their disastrous campaign has certainly pushed them closer to the wilderness.
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