SA in India and the context of ‘Context’

Whichever prism of experience you view the game through, whatever it is you wish to glean from it, it is important to understand different perspectives even if you cannot relate directly to them. At least, it is important for long-serving reporters.

South Africa play India in three T20 Internationals starting on Sunday and, for a wide variety of reasons it’s not been easy to get excited about the series. There has been plenty of fascinating Test cricket on the go recently. The Rugby World Cup is about to start. There is so much T20 cricket going on. T20Is don’t have any context outside the World Cup…

Oh dear, there it is. The ‘c’ word. Now that there is a Test and ODI World Championship these bilateral T20 contests seem to matter even less. But such a view understandably infuriates the players, even if we have entirely reasonable cues for feeling the way we do.

Make no mistake, whenever you hear a senior player earnestly assuring the world that “every time you pull the shirt on and wear the cap is equally special…” it is nonsense. All matches are most certainly not equal and there have been hundreds of players down the years going through the motions. Just as we all do to collect the salary.

Which is precisely why most international T20 squads these days contain younger or less experienced players whose ambition have not been tempered by years on ‘the circuit’, cricketers for whom the lure of the big stage still burns brightly.

Speaking of the big stage and its lure, it is now an established fact  – as confirmed by player surveys conducted by the Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA) around the world – that the majority of players now admit that a contract in the IPL (or other lucrative domestic leagues) is their single greatest ambition.

Even the majority of young players in England and Australia who have the Ashes to dream about, are focusing their energy on the 20-over game in order to make their fortune. It is no different to young golfers and tennis players focusing on ‘earning a living’ from their sports rather than winning a Major. There are only 11 players in an Ashes team and only four Majors per year,

India provides the greatest stage of all for aspirant T20 career-makers. Franchises around the world employ teams of analysts and statisticians to help them identify potential, but there is no substitute for producing a couple of compelling performances in front of 40,000 people against the Indian national team.

So try telling Junior Dala, Reeza Hendricks, Dwaine Pretorius, Bjorn Fortuin or George Linde that this T20 series ‘doesn’t really matter.’ For them, it represents the opportunity of a lifetime to impress and, perhaps, kick start a string of contracts which could be life-changing.

David Miller has earned more money in the IPL than he should be able to spend (if he’s prudent) while Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada are already millionaires. There is much for the rest of the squad to aspire to. If that makes you squeamish, then you are either a hypocrite or one of the tiny minority of the population who derives sufficient satisfaction from your occupation not to have material concerns.

So while it may be reasonable to expect the Indian team to be too strong for the Proteas, don’t expect there to be any lack of determination and intent from the tourists. One man who should have been there is Warriors senior pro, Jon Jon Smuts, originally selected in the squad.

Smuts ‘failed’ a fitness test before the squad assembled and was replaced by Linde. Smuts has played T20s for the Proteas before but was never tested. Nobody questioned his fitness before and nothing has changed with his conditioning between then and now. Yet he was selected and then summarily replaced. That, too, could be life-changing.

After the T20Is, there will be no questions asked about ‘context,’ The first of three keenly anticipated Test matches begins on October 2nd.

Standard Bank Test match squad: Faf du Plessis captain), Temba Bavuma (vice-captain), Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram,  Senuran Muthusamy, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada , Heinrich Klaasen.

Standard Bank T20I squad: Quinton de Kock (captain), Rassie van der Dussen (vice-captain), Temba Bavuma, Junior Dala, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, David Miller, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Bjorn Fortuin, George Linde.

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