Whenever South Africa play an ODI game that isn’t at an actual World Cup, we are told that they are tinkering with selection in pursuit of the perfect starting lineup. Star players are sent away on holiday and youngsters arrive in abundance to see if they can cut it at international level. Cricket South Africa shouldn’t be criticised for blooding youngsters but rather that they don’t play any of their seasoned stars and arrive at a World Cup without them being in any form.
Since Dale Steyn made his debut for South Africa back on a windy day in Port Elizabeth in 2004, he has only managed to rack up a miserly 124 ODI games over the 15 years that have followed. Despite being seen as the key to the Proteas success at the World Cup, the South African selectors have chosen to rest their country’s best ever fast bowler and in the process, reduced his skills with the white ball given he has only played a fraction of the 50-over format during the course of his career.
With the World Cup only a few months away, the same blueprint is being followed again as Quinton de Kock and Dale Steyn were rested for the first couple of games against Pakistan in January. This dated model is without a doubt hurting South Africa and prohibiting the starting eleven from finding any rhythm together.
Most of the youngsters used in the series against Pakistan won’t be boarding the plane bound for London in May and instead, the old guard will be asked to come back from time off to win the country a first ever World Cup. It seems any progressive thinking left the South African setup when Graeme Smith retired now that the Proteas are returning to old ways that have paid no dividends on the World Cup stage since their return from isolation in 1992.
As a cricketing nation, South Africa probably have the best strength in depth around the world with an abundance of world-class talent waiting in the wings but it is how that talent is introduced to international cricket that is hurting the country’s World Cup prospects.
South Africa go into the World Cup with the chances of them winning at their longest ever odds at 8/1 in cricket betting. Despite all the ‘tinkering’, the side will look very similar to the one that competed at the World Cup in 2015 which is odd seeing as a lot of them haven’t played much ODI cricket since Grant Elliot hoisted Dale Steyn over long on for six to send the Proteas crashing out of yet another World Cup semifinal.
There has been a feeling of doom around the Proteas since AB de Villiers’ retirement but it’s worth remembering that every World Cup South Africa have gone into they have been backed as the favourites. Now that they aren’t, could flying under the radar actually help given that the spotlight seems to shine a bit too bright for the Proteas’ liking when it’s on them?
Support of the national side in will begin to reach fever pitch as the World Cup in England draws ever nearer but the fear is there could be more upcoming heartbreak for the passionate people of the rainbow nation. There’s still time to go however and a lot can happen in the next 90 days, but there’s no time to waste for the Proteas if they are to finally exorcise their World Cup demons.