Protea doom and gloom…?

No, I don’t think so. It’s easy to criticise a losing team – far too easy. It is much harder to be optimistic about one or even praise one. Well, let’s try and do something about that.

For its combatants professional sport is, ultimately, about results. It is about winning. Naturally it is also about winning for fans and the bosses but if the administrators can still make money from a team which loses more often than wins – which is sometimes the case – they will still be happy.

At the start of the England tour in the middle of May, the Proteas and management were so determined to win the Champions League that they were prepared to risk losing the three=match ODI series against England which preceded it. They didn’t make a song and dance about their intention to play all 15 players so they could be best prepared for any eventuality during the ICC tournament – in fact, they didn’t even announce it beforehand.

South African squads have tried every method of preparation yet devised over the last 20 years  – except meditation, perhaps. Even yoga and prayer have been thrown into the mix at various times. This time it was the “full on” approach with a pre-tour camp and the three-match series. By the time the first game came around the players were like frothing race horses under starters’ orders. But over-preparation (if that’s what it was) and a desperation to win are hardly grounds for serious complaint.

The Test series defeat was the one which really hurt. It was the first time since the 1960s that the teams have been separated by more than a single Test in any series. A scoreline of 3:1 looks and sounds like a thrashing but it was caused by a couple of glaring and vital weaknesses rather than an overall malaise or lack of talent.

It is a generalisation but there is truth in it – Test wickets are harder to come by than Test runs so Morne Morkel (19 at 26.3) Keshav Maharaj (17 at 30) and Kagiso Rabada (16 at 28.4 in just three Tests) offer plenty of hope for a competitive home summer in which they will attempt to get through 10 Tests. A half-fit Vernon Philander showed that he’s still ‘got it’ with 10 wickets at an average of just 23.4. If he regains full fitness the attack will, once again, rate amongst the best in the world. And then there is Dale Steyn…

The fact that Alistair Cook’s 268 runs came at an average of just 33.5 per innings is all the proof anyone needs that the Proteas can still be deadly with the new ball this summer.

Dean Elgar needs an opening partner, Faf du Plessis needs to bat at number four if AB de Villiers is unavailable and Chris Morris needs to learn how to bowl maidens when they are required. Few Test teams have the depth to carry a ‘luxury’ player. Hashim Amla needs a hundred early in the international season to convince himself (never mind anyone else) that his average of 41 in England is not the new norm and, obviously, Temba Bavuma can’t keep averaging 32. But nobody needs to tell him that.

There really are far more reasons to be cheerful and optimistic about the Test summer ahead than gloomy or pessimistic. At the moment. Fitness and form permitting.

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